Born in Frimley, Surrey on May 25th 1979, Jonny Wilkinson is arguably the most well-known rugby player England has ever produced. The words ‘Jonny’ and ‘World Cup hero’ are often spoken in the same breath following his triumphant drop goal in extra time which crowned England champions in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Wilkinson was awarded an OBE following his magnificent contribution to the team’s achievement.
Wilkinson showed signs of sporting prowess from his early days, and did not concentrate solely on rugby until later on – he was a skilled tennis player and cricketer as well. But the fact that he started playing rugby for Farnham RFC at the tender age of four was a sure-fire sign of things to come.
The Newcastle Falcons signed Wilkinson fresh from school in 1997, at the age of 18, when he was mentored by former player Rob Andrews. His first season in 1997/1998 playing for the Newcastle Falcons saw the squad lift the Premiership trophy.
His extraordinary talent was obvious from day one with the Guinness League club – so much so that it took less than an hour of Wilkinson proving himself as a professional rugby player before he was selected to represent his country. After staying on the bench in a game against Scotland, Wilkinson’s England debut was on April 4th 1998 against Ireland at Twickenham.
Although Wilkinson made his World Cup debut in 1999, nothing could have predicted his defining role in England’s 2003 Grand Slam World Cup success. His famous boot made the difference for the England team, and Wilkinson was part of the only Northern Hemisphere squad ever to win the Rugby World Cup. In the six games he played, Wilkinson kicked eight drop goals, ten conversions and an amazing 23 penalties – a cumulative 113 points, the highest by any individual in the tournament.
But dark days followed the jubilation of the 2003 World Cup victory. Injury followed injury, as problems with his arm, neck, shoulder and ankle kept Wilkinson out of international rugby for three years.
However, Wilkinson’s career was far from over – in 2007 he won his 64th cap for his country. Although his form was questionable, with an admission from the player that there was a problem with his right ankle throughout the French World Cup campaign, Wilkinson not only helped the England squad reach the final (where they were beaten by South Africa at the Stadt de France in Paris) but in doing so, Wilkinson broke Scottish player Scott Hastings’ record to become the highest point scorer in the history of the Rugby World Cup during the quarter-final against Australia in 2007.
Other records Jonny Wilkinson can boast include the highest individual points tally in a Six Nations tournament (89 points in 2000) and also the most points scored in a single match in the Six Nations, with 35 in 2001 against Italy at Twickenham.
But there is more to the fly half than his magic kicking boot. His crunching tackles are also feared, which is quite a feat for a player who, at 85kg and 1.78m, is among the smaller players on the field. This all-round ability is why he’s ranked up there with the very best in the game.
Life off the field
Since kicking his way to fame and international recognition in the 2003 World Cup, Wilkinson has become the David Beckham of rugby. His chiseled looks (there is not a cauliflower ear in sight) are not typical of rugby players and have led to several high profile advertising deals with brands including Hackett, Adidas and Lucozade. Wilkinson has also written a column for The Times newspaper, usually during world cup tournaments or the six nations.
His dedication to the sport is renowned, often practising his kicking long after his team mates have left training.
With his drive and perfectionism, it is difficult to see how Wilkinson finds time for a girlfriend. He keeps his personal life very private, but it was reported in 2007 that he was going out with Shelley Jenkins, who he met when on holiday in Spain.
The following statistics from the Scrum website speak for themselves. Jonny Wilkinson is undeniably one of the best rugby players ever to don an England shirt.
England with Jonny Wilkinson at Rugby World Cup 2007
- England 44 Samoa 22 (Wilkinson – 24 points)
- England 36 Tonga 20 (Wilkinson – 16 points)
- England 12 Australia 10 (Wilkinson – 12 points)
- England 14 France 9 (Wilkinson – 9 points)
- Total: England – 106 points (Wilkinson – 61 points)
England success with Jonny Wilkinson (career)
Played 64; Won 50; Lost 14.
Success rate: 78%
England success without Jonny Wilkinson (since Rugby World Cup 2003)
Played 34; Won 14; Lost 20
Success rate: 41%