To be a legend in both Rugby League and Rugby Union is no mean feat, but it is something which can be attributed to Jason Robinson. Nicknamed ‘billy whizz’ after the popular Beano character due to his blistering pace, he was a star down the wing for both club and country in both forms of the game.
Robinson made his name for Wigan Warriors during their domestic domination in the 1990s, signing from lowly Hunsley in 1992. He won three Challenge Cups, three Regal Trophies and one Charity Shield during his eight year spell with the club, as well as five Championships in six years between 1992 and 1998. He was a vital part of the side, scoring more than 170 tries for Wigan in less than 300 games and notching up more than 650 points.
‘Robbo’, as he was also known by team mates, played 12 times for Great Britain during his Rugby League career but at the turn of the 21st century he decided to switch codes to the lucrative world of rugby union and changed from a warrior to a shark at Sale.
Cracking the Code
Robinson’s move to Sale was a great success throughout the seven years he was there between 2000 and 2007. The born again Christian did not need any help from above as he managed nearly 250 points in more than 150 games for the Sharks, which included a three year spell as captain.
He won the Guinness Premiership once and the Parker Pen Shield twice during his time at Sale and his elevation to legendary status in the game was confirmed after a number of inspirational performances for England. Having made his England debut in 2001 against Italy, it was only two years later that he won a Grand Slam Six Nations Championship with England.
The pinnacle of the year came in the 2003 World Cup in Australia when England defeated the hosts on their own patch in the final, with Robinson scoring the only try of the final. The win was clinched in the dying seconds when England’s number 10, Jonny Wilkinson, dropped a goal with a few minutes to spare.
After the World Cup success, Robinson had a spell as the England captain due to persistent injury problems to Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson’s retirement from the game. It was a great credit to the speedy Sale winger and a title that he fully deserved after making the switch of codes from league to union look so easy.
Robinson scored 28 tries and notched up more than 130 points during his 51 cap England career which included a World Cup runners-up medal in 2007 as well as the 2003 success.
Robbo also had a career with the British and Irish Lions and he was an integral part of the mixed nationality side. He was called up to two Lions tours throughout his career – to Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005. He scored two tries in his five appearances during his Lions career but shortly after the 2005 tour of New Zealand the versatile back announced his international retirement to the dismay of English fans.
It was a great set back for the rugby union nation as Robinson’s performances in an England shirt had been everything the country was about, from sheer determination to succeed to his trickery. His international retirement and decision to concentrate on the domestic game had an immediate effect and coincided with Sale doing well in the league.
In the 2005/06 season, they won the Guinness Premiership after finishing top and beating Leicester Tigers in the final. Then, at the end of 2006, Brian Ashton took over as England coach from Andy Robinson and the Sale man’s services were required by his nation again.
Good choice by the Lord
The born again Christian said that God would let him know if it was right to come back to England, and the outcome was positive for Brian Ashton and the nation. Robinson’s decision to return to international rugby proved to be an effective one for both himself and the country. He scored three tries in two games within a week of his comeback to the national scene and immediately showed he still had the quality to succeed in an England shirt.
Robinson was a major figure in Brian Ashton’s England side, which reached the final of the 2007 World Cup in France. He was unfortunately injured during the final and previously in the tournament but he was fit for the semi-final and captained his country as he won his 50th cap.
England knocked out the hosts France in the semis but they were not expected to get even that far. Their progress to the final shocked many throughout the tournament, especially when they knocked out Australia and the hosts.
However, it was not a fairly tale ending for the nation and Jason Robinson’s career. Despite their great triumph in reaching the climax of the tournament, they just ran out of power and South Africa defeated England in the final.
It was Robinson’s last appearance in an England shirt but not his finest after an injury in the first half meant he was unable to play the 80 minutes. Maybe if he had remained on the field for the whole game, the Webb Ellis trophy could have been retained by England for the first time in its history. After all, Robinson had a 100% record at scoring in a World Cup final!
His final rugby appearance came in a friendly game for the Barbarians against the World Cup winners South Africa on 1st December 2007 when he was officially retired from both international and domestic rugby. To mark the occasion, he wore the socks of Sale during the match – a quirky yet classy touch from a legend of the sport of rugby.