Following England’s exit from the Rugby World Cup there has been talk of “moving forward”. Changes to the coaches and players have been mooted but one person who has no intentions of retiring is Jonny Wilkinson.
The Toulon fly-half recently told the Telegraph that “I want to carry on, if I’m playing well.” He showed this last weekend when he played 54 minutes for his club side in the 38-0 defeat of Perpignan, where the one thing that he was blighted by in New Zealand: his kicking, returned back to form.
Will we see him pull on the white jersey of England again though? Due to the new RFU rules, which one of Wilkinson’s past mentors, Rob Andrew, has brought in, only those playing in England can represent their country. This also rules out the likes of James Haskell, who after a successful World Cup is now plying his trade in Japan with the Ricoh Black Rams and Tom Palmer who plays for Stade Francais.
Another question to ask is: Should England move forward without Wilkinson in the mix? He’s now 32, which is hardly old, and he could still feasibly play for England in the 2015 Rugby World Cup aged 36, in what would be his 5th World Cup.
But what would the inclusion of Jonny Wilkinson in the England set-up say to young fly-halves coming through the ranks such as Saracens’ Owen Farrell and Leicester’s George Ford?
Would he be the voice of experience as they train? Definitely. But would he also be the burden on their shoulders that if they do not play well then Jonny’s always waiting in the wings? Possibly. Maybe Wilkinson being in the England set-up would help them improve further, step up to a class above him.
He is the player of our generation. I was at primary school when he made his England debut, off the bench against Ireland in the 1998 Five Nations. I was in my last year of GCSEs while the 2003 Rugby World Cup was on, and in the quarter-final a couple of weeks ago I was sat on my sofa watching him as a 23-year-old university graduate.
After 2003’s Rugby World Cup win, tonnes of children wanted to be like Jonny Wilkinson. He was and still is an inspiration, you still see children at their local rugby clubs on a Sunday after training attempting to do “a Jonny”.
I want to see Jonny Wilkinson go out on a high. He’s been such an influence on English rugby at all levels, and a great servant to the cause. For all that he’s done for English and world rugby he deserves that moment in the spotlight once more.
But whether it’s in an England jersey or a Toulon one, time will soon tell.