Jonny Wilkinson awarded CBE for services to Rugby

Posted by Sonja in Nov 17,2015 with No Comments

The former Newcastle Falcons Player Jonny Wilkinson has been awarded a CBE for services to Rugby.

The 36 year old, who also helped steer England to World cup victory in 2003, was presented with the award at Buckingham Palace. Wilkinson retired from the sport last year.

Source: ITV

Jonny Wilkinson & Fineside #1inAllin – One From The Corner

Posted by Sonja in Oct 07,2015 with No Comments

Jonny Wilkinson & Fineside #1inAllin – Target Practice

Posted by Sonja in Oct 02,2015 with No Comments

Wilkinson: I’m full of confidence

Posted by Sonja in Sep 30,2015 with No Comments

Rugby World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson has backed England to overcome the setback against Wales and beat Australia on Saturday.

The England legend expects the atmosphere, support and intensity of the match to be bigger and better than ever.

Wilkinson said: “This weekend is going to be a huge match there’s no doubt, especially for this England team but I’m full of confidence, I have been all tournament.

“The fact that the last 10 minutes of a game doesn’t go your way, and the result turns on its head, doesn’t change a thing. It doesn’t mean a team suddenly are no longer the team they were. In fact, it just makes them a bigger and better team.”

England take on Australia at Twickenham on Saturday 3 October at 8pm.

To view the video click on the link below


Rugby World Cup 2015 Opening Ceremony intro

Posted by Sonja in Sep 19,2015 with No Comments

Jonny Wilkinson Interview –

Posted by Sonja in Sep 17,2015 with No Comments

As the last moments of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final were being battled out in Sydney, Jonny Wilkinson’s mother, Philippa, was shopping in a Tesco near her son’s Northumberland home, too nervous to watch her then 24-year-old’s pivotal role in the England v Australia match.

The score was 17-17; 26 seconds of the match remained. And then Jonny, with his weaker right foot, dropped the goal that brought England victory and him the blaze of fame that he has found hard to handle. A shop assistant ran up to Mrs Wilkinson and shouted, ‘Your son’s done it! He’s won us the World Cup!’ Mrs Wilkinson began to cry.

As for Jonny, the ‘whole thing’s taking place without me in it. It’s the only thing I’ve done in my career when I haven’t thought about it.’
Really? ‘Sure,’ he tells me, his wholesome Home Counties face softly bearded, his blue eyes alive with memory, his delivery rapid. ‘Definitely. The ball came, hit me in the hands and I dropped it [to kick the goal], saw that it was dropping well.

And from that moment, the procedural memory of every­thing I’d done, the half-million drop goals I’d probably hit in my career, in practice and whatever, just took over and I watched it from the outside, knowing what the result was going to be. And when it went through the posts, I joined back to my body. There’s a space there where I’m not with it. And it’s the only time it’s happened to me.’

The victory brought him… ‘Joy. I would look at that day as one I could happily sign off on and say, “That was me.” An example of a story with a very, very happy ending.

The problem being – and this is a massive one – that when you have a happy ending to a film, you never think, “What do these characters do the next morning?” For me, winning the World Cup was a potential danger. And it turned out to be an actual danger.’ By which he means the unfulfillable pressure he felt to carry on being the best player in the world, however, damaged his body.

There was a time before that World Cup epiphany when Jonny Wilkinson was known not only as ‘Boy Wonder’ but also as ‘Boy Bonkers’. He would train obsessively, crazily. He would get his fitness coach, Steve Black, to conjure up more and more rigorous regimes so that he could always, always be the one in the England squad who would do best in the horrifically demanding physical tests they underwent – except at the rowing: ‘My arms were too short.’

His mania continued. When his body – wrecked by shoulder injuries, neck injuries, knee injuries, hernias – kept him almost completely out of rugby for four despairing years after the World Cup, he secretly trained as ruthlessly as ever, putting his health, career and, he says, his sanity on the line. As a child he would vomit with nerves before a match. As an adult, a man who had already won the World Cup, he would sit with his new England team-mates, consumed with ‘feelings of huge insecurity, feelings of almost embarrassment, feelings that I wasn’t really worth it, or that the guys didn’t really want me there, that I shouldn’t say this or I shouldn’t say that.’

He was – is – a perfectionist, one who was terrified that he would be ‘found out. That was the thing for me – I never wanted to be found out, I wanted to be complete. So if the team said to me, “We need this,” I’d say, I’ve got it, I’m on it. If it gets close, I’ll hit a drop goal. If you need me to hit another one, I’ll do that. And if their guy’s running for the try line and he needs to be absolutely smashed, I’ll make a massive tackle. And then I’ll make a run, and then I’ll kick a goal – that’s complete.’

That quest for perfectionism was why he didn’t mind being asked if he was a ‘basket case’ during a wretched period immediately before that World Cup final. ‘Those were the qualities I wanted. So it was almost another way of complimenting me. To say, I want to be the obsessive one, I want to be the one you’re looking at, thinking, “Why is he still doing that? How’s he still doing that?” Because I could kick [in practice] for three to five hours without looking at my watch. I could go for six or seven hours and

I would eventually be like, “I’m going in now.” Why? Because I can’t see the ball any more. Not because I’m tired, not because I don’t want to. And I was happy with that.’

Almost two years ago Wilkinson, now 36, married his long-term girlfriend, Shelley Jenkins, in the south of France, where he was then playing his rugby. He has retired now, bowing out in 2014 in a blaze of glory, captaining his side, Toulon, to victory in both the pan-European Heineken Cup and the French Top 14 final. At the end of that game,
God Save the Queen was blasted out of the ground’s speakers. He and Shelley now live near Windsor, in a rented house, working out what to do. Presumably, I say, they are thinking about having children. If they had a son, would Wilkinson encourage him to play rugby?

Wilkinson reflects, and then says, in his ever-truthful, engaging way, ‘I’d like to think, in a very honest, open, spiritual way, I’d be able to say, “Do whatever you want.” But at the same time, knowing what rugby’s like…’ He pauses. ‘But all I know is rugby my way. And I would hope to high heaven that if I had a boy, he would not get, or have, the same mindset I had. A lot of the pressure of my career I put on myself, the way I live life. And it was hell a lot of the time. I’d see it as a waste if I saw my son going through it the same way.’

For all his charm and casual clothing – an untucked grey shirt with a camouflage breast pocket from Fineside, the clothing brand he launched in 2011, black jeans, and black sneakers with a black and white striped tongue from Cole Haan – there’s nothing of the blithe spirit about Wilkinson. He is a very nice man, astute, wholly lacking in vainglorious swagger. But he is also a complex man, who has constantly to question himself and to agonise.

He is, he tells me, coping with retirement far better than he thought he would. But his post-retirement idea of fun is ‘to train a hell of a lot. I really, really destroy myself in the gym. I love breaking down the limits.’ He is still kicking incessantly, too, though he claims, ‘I have a greater understanding and knowledge of where that obsessional switch is. The problem is, it’s like being in a dark bedroom – it takes me a while to fumble round and find the switch. I know roughly where it is.’ He laughs.

‘It’s not that I can flick it on and off, but I get there eventually. Even though it means I often end up phoning my wife and saying, “Sorry, I’m coming home a bit late”  [because his ‘I’m just popping out for an hour and might hit a few balls around’ has turned to two hours, or more]. She kinda gets it. She’s got the multiply by two effect on everything.’

The couple are, Wilkinson says, ‘very simple people’. They are ‘driving’ a food project called Natural Fuel, and their house ‘is mostly decorated with glass pots with different ingredients in them’. It is, he says, ‘amazing how little we clash’. Retirement, he adds, has meant ‘I’m in that space where everything’s fine now’. Rugby used to be all about him; now it’s ‘we’, and ‘we’ can go walking together and travel – they have been to Morocco, and recently to Thailand for five weeks, where Shelley qualified as a yoga teacher.

The Thai trip also gave Wilkinson the opportunity for ‘a massive reconnection’ with his interest in Buddhism and spiritual matters – ethical concepts that helped him through the swamp of depression in which he nearly drowned when injured for so long. ‘I see everything through that filter now,’ he says. ‘Whenever anything happens in my life, I don’t see it that straight cause-and-effect way, I see it in that deeper realm of the spirit.’ Not that he is a solemn fellow: take a look at the short films on his website and you will see both his staggering aptitude with a rugby ball and a larky sense of humour.

But he does contrast his spiritual leanings with all the outward tokens of his success: the money (‘How much? That’s an answer you’ll never get,’ though in 2012 he was reported to be worth £14 million and in 2013-14 he was paid £48,115 a month by Toulon); the records (in his time the highest scorer in world international rugby, the highest scorer in the Six Nations Championship, and still the highest scorer in Rugby World Cups); and the caps (91 for England, six for the British Lions). Sometimes he wants to tell people who identify him solely as ‘You won the World Cup, didn’t you?’ about the medals and the trophies he won with Newcastle and Toulon and all the running rugby those teams played. But that would merely be ‘an egotistical venture, satisfying me, not them. If it’s one kick [they know me for], it’s one kick.’

The build-up to that kick is engrossingly portrayed in Building Jerusalem, a documentary about England and the 2003 World Cup. For anyone, it’s a fascinating insight into the forging of success. For the rugby aficionado, it’s a thrilling reminder of just how terrific a player Wilkinson was – a vital tackle from behind that stops a rampaging Australian in the final; a nerveless penalty slotted home from near on 50 yards in extra time; the perfect pass to put the seal on a crucial try. It reminds you, too, of the hellish first full international Wilkinson played for England – missing easy kicks at goal and seeing his side beaten 76-0, and the tears he shed down the phone to his father after that game; and of the list he wrote as an eight-year-old in which he noted that he wanted ‘to be the kicker, to play for England, to win the World Cup, to be the best there was – I was so sure of what I wanted to be.’

All those he achieved – and what lay at the root of that achievement was his extreme competitiveness. The lengths he would go to and the agonies, both physical and mental, that he would endure scream out of the pages of both his remarkable autobiography, Jonny, and of his equally frank self-help book, Tackling Life, packed as it also is with quotations from Gandhi, General Patton and the new-age writer Rhonda Byrne.

But that’s not where his cauterising drive came from. Certainly, his mother played squash for her county and his father, Phil, was a talented cricketer and rugby player who introduced his infant son to mini rugby at Farnham, in Surrey; his brother, Mark, also played professional rugby. But Mark, says Jonny, had the ability to flick his competitive switch on and off. Mark went to university and made chums, as Jonny might have done had he taken up his place to study sports in the community at Durham; instead Jonny went straight from Lord Wandsworth College in Hampshire to Newcastle Rugby Club. Shy and retiring, he sat, almost mute, in the dressing room. Mark, he says without hesitation, is ‘a more rounded person’ – Jonny is from somewhere very different on the spectrum.

This has brought both triumph and problems. For years, his identity was – perhaps still is – enveloped in his almost masochistic quest for perfection. And his greatest triumph, at the 2003 World Cup, was followed just two weeks later by the first of 14 severe injuries that effectively kept him from the field for four years. A psychiatrist, I say, had once told me that he regarded professional rugby players in the same way as he regarded self-harming teenage girls – they both knew they were doing themselves terrible damage, though rugby players were storing up even more trouble for themselves physically.

‘That’s an interesting comment,’ he says, and goes on to compare himself to a boxer: how could they go into a fight, knowing they would be hit? It was, he adds, ‘about testing yourself and living to those limits, and that meaning you’ve been a success’. What mattered was if you were reckless, and he had been: ‘I’ve gone through periods when I’ve known I’ve got a bad shoulder or a bad neck and I’ve thought I’m going to charge into this tackle full whack.’ His competitiveness, too, made him ‘dogmatic’, even ‘pious’.

He once said he ‘hated’ all the stuff so many people enjoy rugby for, the drinking, the jollity, the singing in the coach – ‘It was almost as though I was against fun.’ Now he realises that a few drinks can be someone’s release, a night out a way of bonding. He drank very, very rarely, and when he did suffered hideously the next day – for instance, on the night after the 2007 World Cup final, when a Wilkinson flick set up a disallowed try that might have made England the only side ever, yet, to retain the World Cup.

Now it’s World Cup time again, and Wilkinson thinks England have a good chance. ‘I’m envious of the guys,’ he notes. ‘Hugely. But would I like to be playing? No. Why not?

Because I’m not ready, as in the mindset, any more.’ In other words, 100 per cent committed to rugby, so passionate that ‘sometimes you’d feel you didn’t have enough time to give to your passion. I tried during my career to be more peaceful, but I realised that actually I was going to have to understand that my competitive nature was so strong this was never going to happen.’ Now, he is happy. ‘Enormously.

One last thing, I say: didn’t you once claim you only enjoyed rugby from the age of three till ten? Did that still hold true?

‘I’m not sure I enjoyed it even then,’ he jokes, a grin on his face. ‘No, I did enjoy it in my own special way – which is different to the way other people did. But however I look at it, it was perfect, because I’m here today and I know I’ve learnt what I was meant to learn. And the nerves, the anxiety, the fear versus the ambition, the desire, the passion – they were all supposed to be in the mix. And I was supposed to figure it out. I wasn’t supposed to find the answer, and I didn’t. But now I feel I have.’

And, I say, he won the World Cup.
‘Exactly!’ he cries. ‘And that’s good enough.’

Building Jerusalem is out now on DVD, courtesy of Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

Source: Telegraph

#BleedForEngland – The Making of the Rose

Posted by Sonja in Sep 16,2015 with No Comments

Simon Barnes’ Rugby World Cup heroes: Jonny Wilkinson

Posted by Sonja in Sep 16,2015 with No Comments

He missed. Three times. That’s what most people forget: and so we remember Jonny Surefoot, the man who never missed. But he did miss sometimes, because he was a man and not a legendary hero, and three times, in the World Cup Final of 2003 between England and Australia in Sydney, Jonny Wilkinson missed with drop-goal attempts.

It was only when a few seconds remained on the clock, seconds in extra-time, after which the World Cup would have been settled by an absurd kicking competition, one that would have made a mockery of England’s domination of world rugby in the previous 12 months, that Wilkinson found his range and his moment.

And that was the beauty of it.

I’ve always liked to compare Wilkinson with David Beckham, because what unites them is greater than the vast acreage of nonsense that divides them.

Most of us have played with a ball, alone, against a wall or garage door. And said to ourselves: one kick. One kick to save the world. One kick and everything is all right: but get it wrong and it’s Armageddon. And we take the run-up and lo! We have saved the world. Again.

Beckham had that kick to make in England’s last World Cup qualifying match against Greece in 2002, the one that took them to the finals. He kept missing too — until it came to the very last chance. And Wilkinson, with the score at 17-17 in the World Cup Final, took the pass and made sweet connection with the ball – on the wrong foot, his weaker right — and sent the ball tumbling in a rainbow arc between the posts to save the world once again.

I was there in the stadium for that breathtaking bit of sport and it was one of the greatest sporting moments I have experienced, all mixed up with the joys of partisanship. Wilkinson was at the heart of everything that brilliant England side did in that extraordinary 12-month period. He kicked all 15 points when England beat New Zealand in 2002.

At the World Cup he scored 20 of the 25 points England scored against South Africa. After that, one Australia paper ran a picture of Wilkinson with the headline: “Is that all you’ve got?” Even if it had been, it would have been enough. Wilkinson scored 23 of the 28 that England scored against Wales in the quarter-finals, and all 24 of the points they scored against France in the semi. He also scored 15 of the 20 points England needed to win the final.

Wilkinson was so accurate that he altered the way the opposition played. Players daren’t commit an offence in their own half, because it would cost three points every time. So England constantly faced opponents who were holding back: and that made all the difference. Wilkinson wasn’t just the finisher: he was the controller.

He’d be a great sporting hero if the story had stopped in 2003, but it didn’t. Wilkinson went on to become sport’s Job. He suffered an impossible series of injuries: and yet he never, for one second, lost the faith. Two weeks after the World Cup he had a broken shoulder. He then had a haematoma on his arm. He tore a medial knee ligament. He tore it again. He had appendicitis. He tore another knee ligament. And just for luck, he also suffered a lacerated kidney.

Such an appalling succession of bad luck would have broken the spirit of most, but Wilkinson never stopped hoping, never let up for a second on the rehab, never gave up for an instant on the athlete’s diet and the athlete’s lifestyle. No setback ever seemed to sicken him.

And he almost did it again. He was that good. At the World Cup in France in 2007, he was injured again, but came into the team after the first two pool matches. He then got injured. But once again he came back: and in the quarter-final he scored all the points as England shockingly beat Australia 12-10.

England then beat France in the semi-finals, thanks to a last-minute drop-goal; the attentive reader will probably be able to guess who scored it. Alas, South Africa were too strong in the final, but to get there at all was an astonishing achievement for an inadequate England team.

After that, Wilkinson went to have a third sporting career. After Jonny Surefoot and Rehab Man, we have Jonny Unbound. He played for Toulon as an essentially creative player. He found new talents and a new way of playing, an artistry that would never have been possible for him in England. It was a glorious coda, satisfying in a deeply personal way – a glorious up-yours to all those non-English observers who criticised him for being a one-dimensional kicking machine. Envy does shocking things to a person’s judgement.

Two important things remain from Wilkinson’s career. The first is the glory years of 2002-2003, in which England were unbeatable and Wilkinson was invariably the difference between victory and defeat, especially in that last glorious kick of the World Cup Final.

The second is in Wilkinson’s ego. What ego, I hear you ask: and you’re right to do so. Wilkinson was that rare thing, a sports star without an ego: an individual stand-out in a team game who rejected any shred of personal glory. There was something of Zen-like purity in the way Wilkinson saw the world as a player: and not exactly by coincidence, he developed a fascination with Buddhism during his sporting career.

He was a player who hated the limelight but accepted the responsibility. He never pushed himself forward, but never stood back when there was a job to do.

So let’s savour one last look at Jonny in his pomp. Motionless. Knees bent. Arse stuck out. Arms out before him, forming an isosceles triangle with his shoulders. Hands clasped. Head down. Eyes on the ball. Then the head cocked up to the target. Back down again. Up. Down. Up. Down. And then the rhythmic arc of the run-up, the languid swing of the left leg, the sweet connection with the sweetest spot on the rugby ball: and once again the ball end-over-ending between the posts.

Again and again and again. Especially when it really, really mattered. That was Wilkinson.

Spurce: Simon Barnes ESPX

Pacific Warriors Film

Posted by admin in Sep 12,2015 with No Comments

Check out this new film about the pacific islands rugby players. It features Jonny and looks great! Another one to get you in the mood for Friday! Watch the trailer below and it is out on dvd and itunes.

Watch the trailer here

Jonny Wilkinson: I feel like I am falling apart…

Posted by Sonja in Sep 06,2015 with No Comments

When Jonny Wilkinson answers a question, it is as if he is embarking upon a great expedition. This is not a quick trip to the corner shop. This is an epic, troubled journey, traversing ravines made icy by shadow, fording raging rivers and climbing soaring peaks. Sometimes, it feels as if his attempts to get back home are a struggle that will never end.

Wilkinson is, quite simply, the most compelling sportsman in the world. Or the most compelling ex-sportsman. On the eve of the first World Cup for 20 years that he has not graced, the man who was for so long England’s talisman and comfort is trying to turn away from the things that once defined him and search for a new life.

The search is taking a toll. When he talks about it, Wilkinson travels from nought to intense in five seconds flat. That’s his character. There is something sparse about him. He can be bleak. He is honest, too. Always honest. Honest in the kind of unsparing way that shuns everyday self-deception and brings truths, sometimes uncomfortable truths, spilling out.

Take, for instance, the insecure, egocentric little part of you that hopes a team, or a firm, or a newspaper, won’t be quite as good or quite as loved once you’ve left it. Wilkinson acknowledges that in himself as he struggles to come to terms with the idea that his last club side, Toulon, are better without him.

Take, too, the vainglorious part of you that secretly wants to leverage past achievements to get a table at a restaurant or a nod from someone you admire. Wilkinson acknowledges that in himself as he seeks to break from his identity of being a famous rugby player.

Some people mock him for the introspection. They have done for some time. ‘Are you worried you might turn into a basket case?’ a journalist asked him during the 2003 World Cup that he won for England with that last-gasp drop goal against Australia in Sydney. Maybe that’s because Wilkinson’s penchant for self-analysis makes people feel uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s just because he’s so smart that many find it hard to grasp what he’s articulating. Or perhaps it is just that we have grown so used to cliché and the avowed absence of doubt in our sportsmen and women that it is hard to comprehend one who is, openly, riven by vulnerability and anguish.

Wilkinson worked fiendishly hard as a player, pushing himself to the limit, kicking and kicking and kicking, practising and practising and practising in the pursuit of perfection. There was always an element of self-loathing in his refusal to countenance fault. Now he is applying the same work ethic and the same dark suspicion of himself into attempting to make a new life.

Wilkinson, who retired from competitive rugby in 2014, holds the World Cup records for most points scored, most penalties converted and most drop goals kicked. He is the only man to have scored in two World Cup finals. But that was then and this is now. Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away but those who revered him keep trying to drag him back.

‘I find it difficult being honoured with something when I don’t see that I have earned it, or how I could have earned it,’ says Wilkinson. ‘When you finish playing rugby, it becomes a lot more evident when people are saying something good about you even though you are no longer in that shirt. That rugby life becomes a lifetime ago. You think, “Why are people talking about me in that way?”

‘The mirror is a great one for showing your own errors. You see through yourself, don’t you, and you see yourself for all your little faults. And I have always found it hard matching those up against the fact that people paint you in such a way that is amazingly supportive.

‘You can’t escape the mirror. That’s helping me to understand the difference between what you look like and who you are. When I look in the mirror, at the moment, I see confusion because I know I am breaking apart, but I am not fully broken apart.

‘I feel like I am breaking apart in terms of . . . in the early part of my career . . . if you said to me, “Describe yourself”, I would have said, “I’m a rugby player, I love training hard, tackling, I want to be this, I want to be that, I play for England”, and all that stuff.

‘In the middle of my life, I would have said, “I’m a rugby player”, but also I would have spoken a bit more about family and life. But now, “Who are you?” is turning into . . . I wouldn’t say, “I’m an ex-rugby player or I’m this”. I’m basically . . . I don’t know. That’s the confusion.

‘I feel like I’m breaking apart in that I am going towards somewhere where my answer will be massively in the spiritual and philosophical, but it’s not there yet. All I know is that I don’t feel any worth in saying, “I was a rugby player and I played 18 years as a professional and I played there and I won this”.

‘It’s not the fact that I couldn’t care less. It’s just that I see it as the same now as getting up and going out for lunch. That’s what I’m feeling now as I’m breaking apart.

‘I’m feeling that life is going on and my appearance has been associated with my historical stuff and that’s breaking apart. That’s what I feel and that’s the confusion I see. Recognising myself is becoming more and more difficult but I see that in a positive way.’
Wilkinson is haunted by the idea that he might in any way be in thrall to his own ego. He is trying to obliterate his ego. Several times, he repeats his fear that he is somehow fraudulent. It is a recurring theme, the feeling that he is undeserving of the praise lavished on him.

‘Why have people been so kind to me and what is this feeling I get about this fraudulent side?’ he says. ‘Why are they supporting me? People say, “Oh, he works so hard”, when I am doing what I love. People say, “Oh, he’s modest”, when it’s me just saying what I feel about me.’

He wants to move on and yet his status as one of the greatest players there has ever been means that, as the World Cup approaches, his profile is high again. Last week, he was the main focus of a brilliant new documentary, Building Jerusalem, about England and the 2003 World Cup that was screened at cinemas across the country.

He is an analyst for ITV, too. He will be all over our screens for the duration of this tournament. His work perpetuates his fame but he wants to retreat from it. He has a horror of making the next step in his life ‘the easy route’. When he thinks of what he might become, he does not always like what he sees.

‘The easy route for me is a materialistic route,’ says Wilkinson. ‘It’s the way everyone goes. It’s, “How can I leverage what I have been through in order to go somewhere?” This is the battle everyone faces.

‘You have got one side of you that is aware of that side of things, that deeper, more permanent thing. You have got the other side which is constantly nagging at you to say, “Wouldn’t that be great, wouldn’t that be cool if we could get that or if these guys knew my name?”. This is what everyone faces.

‘I feel I have an opportunity now to really understand something and I don’t want to miss it. I am looking for that deeper level. My growth towards that . . . that’s the growth I am interested in. It’s in the internal versus the external.

‘The external is amazing for me. I am so lucky and I want to honour that by making sure that I use it. Helping and supporting other people is the internal for me. That’s maybe the more lasting thing. In that legacy of giving back, that’s the growth.’

Sometimes, it is hard to follow Wilkinson. Sometimes, you have to seek clarification. Sometimes, his mind seems to be whirring like the photojournalist’s in Apocalypse Now. When the thing that has defined a man for most of his life comes to an end, what are you going to land on?

‘I become more and more confused by appearance when I look in the mirror,’ says Wilkinson, 36, ‘because I am starting less and less to buy into it. I start to see changes but not just changes as I am getting older. Changes that are taking me further away from the idea that I am my appearance or my body. I see it as a shell.’

A few months ago, he said retirement had made him feel ‘less of a man’ but his attitude has already changed. He has reached a stage where he identifies the agonising four-year period between the 2003 and 2007 World Cups when he was derailed by a succession of injuries as the key to his ability to survive the end of his rugby career.

‘Before I got my injuries,’ says Wilkinson, ‘I was so tied up with who I was and how important I felt I was. Deep down, I was attached to winning the World Cup. I was attached to being an England player.

‘That route was getting worse. The injuries were a pointer to saying, “Look, you are going to struggle very, very badly with the end of your career. To the point where, life-wise, enjoyment-wise, you probably won’t come back from it.”

‘I went through depression in the four years I was injured. I was forced to go through it and when I came out, I still had this opportunity to play rugby again. What happened in that period was obvious because you are in the presence of a hugely greater intelligence that is looking at you and being like, “This is what you need”.’

Wilkinson’s search for happiness after his career, his embrace of Buddhism, quantum physics and existentialism, can sometimes seem bewildering in its eclecticism. Deep thinkers can often unsettle people, particularly in the sporting world. That’s why people sometimes snigger at Wilkinson behind his back. That’s why that journalist called him a basket case.

‘When I look back on my career,’ says Wilkinson, ‘it’s not a case of saying, “What was the best thing to come out of your career, was it winning the World Cup, was it winning the European Cup or was it finishing by winning the Top 14 or was it being named this or doing this?” No, that’s nothing.

‘The best thing about my career in terms of me as a person was being injured for four years and going through what I went through in terms of mental issues. The best thing about my rugby career is that it has allowed me to be in a position where I feel that my mind has been opened and I have been supported towards being able to attack life on a privileged level.

‘I don’t mean that in terms of having financial security and options available for working. I mean it in terms of being able to delve deeper into this search for happiness that is ultimately in giving to others.

‘If you carry on going, “Oh no one cares about me, I am no longer a rugby player”, you will get another lesson and it will be harder to deal with and then you will have to get the professional help and so on.

‘On my path, it is always coming towards this existential drive of finding out the real answer behind “What’s going to last?”. Because my career was 18 years. In fact, it was from the age of four, so it was 31 years. It was 31 years of just non-stop obsession about one thing and then on a certain day it goes “Zoop” and then you go, “What the hell now?” ’

Source: Daily Mail