Jonny Wilkinson retires: Telegraph Sport writers’ fondest moments following end of international playing career

Telegraph Sport’s team of rugby union writers recall their favourite
memories of Jonny Wilkinson who retired from the international game on
Monday.

Universally loved: Jonny Wilkinson is popular with players,
journalists and fans alike Photo: ACTION IMAGES

11:25AM GMT 13 Dec 2011

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Paul Hayward, Chief Sports Writer

Listening to Jonathan Peter Wilkinson was almost as good as watching
him. You would ask him a question on Saturday and he would complete
his response on Sunday. In the autumn of 2009 I played amateur
psychologist to explore his current state of mind. He said: “I’ve been
searching for tranquillity in a world created by obsessive thoughts.”
You don’t get many answers like that to the pound.

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Mick Cleary, Rugby Correspondent

It’s not the despair that kills you, it’s the hope. And yet, on a
wonderful late summer’s evening in the west of Ireland, the sun
refusing to set over Galway Bay, there was Jonny, doing his Pied Piper
best to satisfy a gaggle of kids queuing as far as the eye could see
for his autograph, happy that he’d come through a pre-season game for
Newcastle against Connacht, back where he felt most at home, on a
rugby field. It didn’t last. It rarely did. As his says plaintively in
his splendid recently-published autobiography: ‘The start of the
2007-08 season is another fresh start. What is this, the sixth?’

Yes, it was. And there were more to come. I can still remember
Newcastle coach Steve Bates saying at Kingsholm in late September 2008
after Jonny had once again been taken from the field injured, this
time with a knee problem: ‘He’s sitting up there in the dressing-room.
It doesn’t seem serious.’ Wilkinson didn’t play again that season.

There were many wonderful Wilkinson cameos to recall: against South
Africa in Bloemfontein in 2000 when he scored all 27 points to help
England beat the Springboks, 27-22, setting a new national record in a
win that was the start of a run of 12 successive England victories
over the southern hemisphere culminating in that World Cup triumph in
Sydney, his bravery as the ‘Boks went after him at Twickenham in 2002,
a master-class against Ireland earlier that year at Twickenham, his
international comeback game against Scotland in 2007, on and on we
could go.

Yet it’s Wilkinson’s courage, resilience, fortitude, sheer guts to
come back from no matter what adversity that really sticks in the
mind. On that glorious August evening in Galway, Wilkinson probably
knew deep within, even as he sighed with satisfaction and signed away
willingly, that fate was already out there plotting to bring him down
again. Yet he always got back up. And for that, he will forever be
remembered.

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Ian Chadband

After the World Cup semi-final in Sydney in 2003, I was interviewing
Serge Betsen, asking him about how his indiscretions had been punished
by Wilkinson’s metronomic penalty-kicking boot out there. Suddenly,
this toughest of Frenchmen started to break down in tears at the
thought. Yes, that was what Wilko’s cold-eyed marksmanship could do to
even the hardest of spirits.

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Will Greenwood, England World Cup winner and Telegraph Sport columnist

I’ve never seen a man hurt himself on the training field like him.
Yes, he was talented, but it was his attitude to making himself better
every second of every day that was his legacy. His ability to hurt
himself was inspirational for the players around him. He was a nutbag,
but we loved him for it.

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Brendan Gallagher

England Schools against Wales Schools at Narberth, April 12 1997.
England were invincible that year but, as ever, were having trouble
sorting out an inspired Wales team. Deep into injury time England were
trailing 17-15 despite two tries from a bloke called Mike Tindall who
had long blonde hair in those days. A small fly-half demands one more
effort, England’s forwards rumble right and then left before said
fly-half smashed over a 35 yard dropped goal. Six years later he was
doing exactly the same in the World Cup final.

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Gavin Mairs

My abiding memory of Jonny Wilkinson was not the drop-goal, nor all
the penalty goals landed with such precision.

No, for me, a 22-second period during which time he managed three
massive, momentum-sapping tackles, captured Wilkinson’s brilliance as
a fly-half who changed the way the game was played.

The purple patch of physical prowess, bravery and timing came during
England’s 2003 Grand Slam-winning triumph against Ireland at Lansdowne
Road in Dublin. It can still be watched on Youtube. Check it out. It
is a breathtaking cameo.

Ireland went into the match also seeking what would have been their
first clean sweep since 1948 and after an early try by Lawrence
Dallaglio, Eddie O’Sullivan’s side were enjoying a sustained period of
pressure. The charge was led by Leicester full-back Geordan Murphy,
who made a fine break from a cut-out ball only to be felled from
behind by a brilliant cover tackle from Wilkinson.

The England fly-half jumped back to his feet and less than 20 seconds
later had knocked over Ireland wing Denis Hickie as the home side’s
flowing attack continued.

Once again Wilkinson dashed back into the defensive line like a
openside flanker and his coup de grace came when he picked up Justin
Bishop and dumped him backwards in humiliating fashion. It proved to
be a fatal blow to Ireland’s confidence. Wilkinson had laid down
England’s marker with the ferocity of the tackling and his relentless
work ethic.

His contribution to the 42-6 rout also included two dropped goals in a
15-point haul. But it was his tackling that provided the platform for
the most impressive performance of that England side of 2003, who by
November of that year were crowned world champions.

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Steve James

His try against New Zealand at Twickenham in 2002 is my favourite
memory, if only because it was such a rarity. He only scored six for
England, but this was a cracker that lingers easily in the mind. There
was little doubt that around this time he was the best fly half in the
world, and this merely proved it. He found himself on the New Zealand
22 with slow ball and having to act as scrum half. There looked as if
nothing was on, but he saw the gap under the posts and chipped ahead.
The bounce was kind, but he sprinted, collected and scored. And
England won 31-28. Those were the days!

The former England coach has hailed Jonny Wilkinson’s career in
international rugby after the England flyhalf announced his retirement
from international matches.