With the new boss settled and new blood coming through the ranks, will the game's metronome continue to figure in world rugby, or has Jonny Wilkinson’s expiry date been reached?
Wilkinson will not be going anywhere in the short term—as long as his notorious shaky body holds up. With a litany of injury history, Jonny was inconspicuously absent during the bulk of the horrific championship reign of the England team. It has been his run of absences that has allowed for young up and comers to move through the international ranks.
His representative career began in Newcastle, initially playing at inside centre. He was not an assured fixture in the mighty Falcons team, with international capped players such as the fearsome Inha Tuigamala and British Lion Alan Tait. The Black and whites won the premiership title that season. In 1998 he earned his first international call up—being idle on the bench for his first official game. He came from the bench against Ireland in April of 1998, aged 18.
His first international tour was truly disastrous, being part of the ill fated tour to Australasia, in which England was destroyed by the All Blacks and the Wallabies—the latter defeating the English their worst defeat in history, 76-0. Purists of English rugby will argue that this was the catalyst for their eventual climb to world supremacy.
By 1999 Wilkinson became a starter in the England team, playing all of their matches in the Five Nations. England was coming of four consecutive Triple Crowns in the tournament, but even Wilkinson couldn’t prevent Scotland’s breakthrough win in 1999.
He figured in England’s failed 1999 World Cup campaign, but was not a regular starter, being rested for some pool games and being benched against the 44-21 drubbing against the Springboks to exit in the quarter finals. Many blamed Clive Woodward’s selection policies and lack of consistency especially considering Wilkinson as their ultimate demise.
In 2000 Wilkinson and England came of age, with only a loss to Scotland denying England a Six Nations Grand Slam. In England’s tour of South Africa, Wilkinson effectively won the second test against the Springboks, kicking all of their points in a landmark 27-22 win. At the end of the year he was instrumental in England claiming the scalps of the Puma’s, Wallabies and again the Boks.
2001 was a mixed year for Wilkinson, with England claiming the Six Nations over point’s difference from Ireland—and recording the Five/Six Nations record for most points in a match with 35 against Italy. Jonny was selected for his British Lions against World Champions Australia, and was blamed by many for the Lions second test loss with a poor performance against a very good Wallaby team.
2002 saw Wilkinson’s England miss out on a third consecutive Six Nations title, being denied by France whom recorded a Grand Slam by defeating England in Paris. The End of 2002 saw England and Wilkinson confirmed as World powers, claiming a Trifecta over the South Hemisphere giants, defeating the Wallabies, All Blacks, and annihilating the Springboks 53-3.
Of course 2003 was the apex of the Wilkinson and England era. They claimed a Six Nations Grand Slam, defeated the All Blacks and Wallabies in their own backyards, and won the World Cup, with Jonny kicking the winning drop goal.
It is this proud history that will ensure that Wilkinson, will remain a fixture in the England team. Martin Johnson, the New England rugby monarch—has a well recorded affection for Wilkinson, knowing too well the impact of Jonny in Martin’s reign as eventual World Cup winning captain.
Naturally, there is now competition for the number 10 position, with young Wasps prodigy Danny Cipriani coming to prominence. Some would argue that it is this new breed that is affecting English rugby negatively.
England’s power comes from control and power up front. Electric young talents like “Celebrani” can score a decisive try (as he did in Wasps recent Heineken Cup loss), but as proven in the same game, he cannot control a game for 80 minutes.
Not like Jonny can.
Wilkinson, the charming lad from Surrey, is now an integral part of England folklore, and will not be consigned to the scrap heap. Failing this, he could be an attractive option for inside centre, at the least for his ability to guide the young players and his defensive work.
At the least, he will remain in the England set up as a mentor to the young English players, with Wilkinson’s work ethic and pride for the jersey legendary. Beyond this, he will continue with his focus on the Rugby community, but it will be a while before we see the back of the current World Record point’s scorer of test match history.