Posted by Sonja in May 13,2015 with No Comments
Sky Academy Ambassador Jonny Wilkinson treated students of Goffs School in Cheshunt to a Sky Sports Living for Sport masterclass in rugby union on Wednesday.
A selected group of 20 Year 7 students were taught passing skills by the England rugby hero after the school were lucky winners of a Sky Academy prize draw. Goffs School were entered into the draw last month following their commitment and participation in Sky Sports Living for Sport.
Sky Academy Ambassador Jonny Wilkinson said: “I was honoured to come to Goffs School today and spend time with the students here. They have benefitted massively from Sky Sports Living for Sport, using sport to develop their leadership skills which can be taken into all aspects of their life. Goffs School are worthy winners of the Sky Academy competition and I hope the students continue to use the initiative to learn the value sport can have off the field, as well as on it.”
Sky Academy launched a competition open to all UK secondary schools who submit a Sky Sports Living for Sport project before 7 June 2015. Remaining prizes will be drawn every week until 8 June and teachers who submit a Sky Sports Living for Sport project online at www.skysports.com/livingforsport qualify for the weekly prize draws and also receive two free visits from a team of over 90 world-class Athlete Mentors.
Sky Sports Living for Sport is a free initiative open to all secondary schools across the UK and Ireland which uses sports stars and the skills learnt through sport to build life skills in young people. It is part of Sky Academy, a set of initiatives using the power of TV, creativity and sport to help one million young people in the UK and Ireland build practical skills and experience to unlock their potential.
The initiative has been running in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust since 2003 and this academic year alone, more than 1,500 UK secondary schools have taken part.
To get involved and sign up to Sky Sports Living for Sport, visit www.skysports.com/livingforsport.Share on Facebook
Posted by Sonja in Apr 25,2015 with No Comments
We’re delighted to be giving secondary school teachers the opportunity to win some amazing prizes and opportunities for their school when they plan a Sky Sports Living for Sport project, including the chance to meet Sky Academy Ambassadors Jonny Wilkinson, Thierry Henry and Jessica Ennis-Hill!
Sky Sports Living for Sport is part of Sky Academy, a set of initiatives using the power of TV, creativity and sport to help 1 million young people in the UK and Ireland build practical skills and experience to unlock their potential.
Sky Sports Living for Sport has been running in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust since 2003, using sport stars and the skills learned through sport to help young people build confidence and develop life skills, and this academic year alone over 1500 UK secondary schools have taken part.
If you’re a teacher from a school that has not previously been involved in Sky Sports Living for Sport, all you need to do is sign-up and plan a project to take place in the current academic year by going here.
Teachers who have previously planned projects with Sky Sports Living for Sport simply need to login and submit a new project plan here.
The deadline for submitting projects is Sunday 7 June 2015 but make sure you do yours as soon as possible in order to gain entry into our weekly draws straightaway, offering your project group the chance to win one of the below money-can’t-buy prizes:
Week One Prize One (draw on Friday 1 May)
1 x school will win a Masterclass with Sky Academy Ambassador Jonny Wilkinson at their school on 13 May 2015*
Week One Prize Two (draw on 1 May)
1 x school will win a Masterclass with Sky Academy Ambassador Thierry Henry in London on a date in May, plus an Arsenal shirt signed by Thierry Henry and all travel and accommodation
Week One Prize Three (draw on Friday 1 May)
1 x school will win a trip to Sky for a Sky Studios and Sky Academy experience on 1 July 2015, including a Masterclass with Jonny Wilkinson and all travel and accommodation
Week Two Prize (draw on Friday 8 May)
1 x school will win a trip to see Game Changers filmed live at Sky Studios on 13 June 2015, including all travel and accommodation
Week Three Prize (draw on Friday 15 May)
1 x school will win a trip to see Game Changers filmed live at Sky Studios on 20 June 2015, including all travel and accommodation
Week Four Prize (draw on Friday 22 May)
1 x school will win the first Golden Ticket to the Jessica Ennis-Hill Inspiration Day in October 2015, including all travel and accommodation
Week Five Prize (draw on Friday 29 May)
1 x school will win a trip to Sky for a Sky Studios and Sky Academy experience in the 2015/16 academic year, including the chance to meet a Senior Athlete Mentor and all travel and accommodation
Week Six Prize (draw on Friday 5 June)
1 x school will win a Golden Ticket to the Jessica Ennis-Hill Inspiration Day in October 2015, , including all travel and accommodation
Sky Sports Living for Sport is a free initiative open to all secondary schools across the UK and Ireland and by simply signing-up and submitting your project plan online, not only will you be entered into our weekly prize draws, but you’ll also automatically qualify for:
FREE t-shirts for your Sky Sports Living for Sport project group
FREE Athlete Mentor Visit from one of our inspirational team of Mentors
Automatic entry into a monthly prize draw for up to £300 worth of Sky Tickets
Exclusive Sky sports Living for Sport wristbands, only available to the project group
As well as the above, if you’re a teacher who has already run a project in the 2014/15 academic year and are quick to submit a new project, you will be entered in to a separate prize draw on Friday 1 and Friday 8 May 2015. Each week, six schools will be randomly selected to win an extra Athlete Mentor visit during their new 2014/15 project – in addition to the two you already get for free!**
Don’t forget to submit your project plan by Sunday 7 June 2015 for the chance to win one of the above prizes of a lifetime.
*Winning school for Jonny Wilkinson Masterclass on 13 May 2015 must be based in London or the South East.
***Winning schools must have already run a project in the 2014/15 academic year and received two Athlete Mentor visits throughout that project.
See full Terms and Conditions.Share on Facebook
Posted by Sonja in Apr 20,2015 with No Comments
The Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) today announced England legend Jonny Wilkinson is to be honoured at the RPA Players’ Awards 2015, taking place on Wednesday 13th May at Battersea Evolution, London.
Wilkinson has been named as this year’s inductee to the RPA Hall of Fame, in association with KPMG. The former Newcastle Falcons and Toulon fly-half joins an illustrious list of players who have collected the award, including: Gareth Edwards, Martin Johnson, Michael Lynagh and Jason Robinson.
Best known for his heroics in the 2003 World Cup final against Australia, Wilkinson will be in attendance on the night to look back on a career in which he won a number of coveted trophies including the World Cup, Six Nations, European Cup and Top 14.
On receiving news of his award Wilkinson said: “I’m truly honoured to be joining such an illustrious line up in the RPA Hall of Fame. The RPA have been ever present in supporting players throughout my career and it is great to be returning to London to celebrate what will be the biggest year in English rugby.”
RPA Group CEO, Damian Hopley, said: “Jonny is a global rugby icon who has shown incredible determination, drive and commitment throughout his illustrious career. He has enjoyed success at every level and has been a superb ambassador for the game of rugby. It’s fantastic that he and his family are able to join us on the night to celebrate his outstanding achievements.”
To be part of the RPA Players’ Awards 2015 and to rub shoulders with leading rugby personalities and players please contact Sam Baring on SBaring@theRPA.co.uk or 020 3053 6670.
Inductees to the RPA Hall of Fame, in association with KPMG, are recognised by the RPA Players’ Board as having made an outstanding contribution to the International game.Share on Facebook
Jonny Wilkinson, Bryan Habana and Brad Thorn – legends of the game sit down to discuss Rugby World Cup
Posted by Sonja in Mar 31,2015 with No Comments
You have all won a World Cup, you have played at eight tournaments collectively and have a combined 262 caps between you – what are the biggest changes that you have seen in rugby union since the start of your careers?
Jonny Wilkinson: In 1997, it was just out of amateur and you could feel that transition coming. There was no one playing at that time who was straight out of school. Everyone had jobs and played rugby because they wanted to enjoy it. It was very different. When I went into my first changing room, I didn’t speak for three months. I spoke on the field, but in the changing room I only spoke when spoken to. There were internationals like Inga Tuigamala, Pat Lam, Dean Ryan who I daren’t speak to for three months and then I was so pleased when one of them came over and said ‘Are you OK?’. I loved that.
Brad Thorn: I call it the two-year rule: shut up for two years before you open your mouth. After a couple of years you might learn to speak. For me, in 2000 I came across to rugby and it was still early days. It has really come on as a fully firing professional league.
Bryan Habana: The game has changed a lot since even I started out in 2004, particularly with the physicality of the young players coming in. The game in South Africa has got a lot more professional from a lot earlier age. In South Africa, they are having video sessions at schoolboy level now, which is crazy. Hopefully the core ethics of rugby will never be lost. I was part of the era where a lot of amateurs were finishing up. As Jonny said, as a youngster when you went into the dressing room you didn’t speak and wanted to make sure you carried the seniors’ bags through the airport. Now the game has got so professional so quickly that some of those core values might be disappearing.
Has that professionalism and physicality made rugby a better spectacle? Speaking before that final round of Six Nations game, the New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said rugby was at risk of becoming boring.
JW: I definitely think it is better than in past days. I have looked at some of the games I have played in and been like ‘What the hell was that?’ Literally awful stuff. But there was a time when I can remember when everyone would talk about a few guys around the league, every team would be saying ‘Have you seen so and so, he’s absolutely massive’. Nowadays every team has got five or six of them. That is going to mean bigger contacts but also because of the pressure from the professionalism there is more riding on every game. Relegation and promotion is death of clubs now. There’s so much riding on it that you can only do what’s right. I played in a team [Toulon] where we would have liked to have done things differently but when it came down to it we had to do it this way to win. It wasn’t everyone’s choice but you have to do to it win. When it comes down to the big games, you walk away as winner and you will be remembered forever; you play great and lose you are not. That’s the pressure.
BT: If you look at the last round of the Six Nations, everyone knew they had to play. They were free to play rugby and you saw three high-scoring games. But to come back to what Jonny is saying, when you look at the World Cup finals, you didn’t see attractive rugby. The 2011 World Cup final, I was playing in it and I remember thinking ‘This is rubbish’. Same thing in 2003 and 2007, because it was so tight. There’s so much pressure to win. There’s not much risk factor, you just have to take the points when you can. The game is still a good spectacle when there’s an opportunity to play some footy. As Jonny was saying, when it comes down to it and you need to win a game then you play the style to get the job done.
BH: When you say ‘Is it still a spectacle?’ I don’t think we have ever heard of a rugby game that is 0-0 after 80 minutes so when you compare it to soccer then a lot more happens. The one thing that has played a big part and where the game is going backwards is that there is so much being played. You have got Top 14, you have Champions Cup, you have got Super Rugby, you have got sevens and international rugby. Where’s your spectator value? Is it in the most attractive rugby? The workload of players with so much rugby being delivered to the world needs to be handled better.
The International Rugby Players’ Association recently called for mandatory 12-14 week off-season period – would you be in support of that proposal?
BH: That would be ideal. The biggest problem that rugby has to make that happen is a global season. You are always going to get the issue of the summer and autumn tours and, with television rights being sold 4-5 years down the line, I can’t see it happening.
BT: Speaking from a league perspective, the model they have where you play Super League in the summer works well. They play some good footy here in the summer when the conditions are better. The other thing I like from league is that we play a lot of footy but it is compacted into 6-8 months and then we usually get six-eight weeks off, which would seem crazy to rugby guys who get four weeks off at the most. Having those eight weeks off means you are excited about training again as a player and then you have a two-month pre-season. That means every year in league, the product gets better. Young guys get time to rest, recover and refresh. They can do their strength and conditioning along with their skill work so that every year the package gets better and better. I agree with what Bryan is saying because when I look at rugby, with young guys coming in, they are playing 10-11 month seasons, they don’t get the right break.
JW: The key point there is the pre-season, if you don’t get that then you never get that point where the pressure is off and you can actually properly work on something. It is all mental. Physically, if you are not injured, you can pick it up in a week or two. But mentally, you need to have that break where it is just knowing there’s nothing in front of you. That’s very different from being told you can have a few days off but we need you back in. If you had two months you can imagine just dropping that whole weight. You can be someone else for two months.
BT: I agree with exactly what you are saying. The mental side of it is massive. If it is too close you can’t drop it. I don’t know about you guys, but usually it takes two weeks into the off season where I finally feel that load come off my shoulders. You don’t realise that pressure is on you, but then two weeks in you can actually feel yourself chilling out.
JW: But then two weeks later you are back in.
So how do you deal with the pressure involved in a World Cup year, particularly, in England’s case, a home World Cup?
JW: It is a funny one because we have all been fortunate enough to win World Cups. Now that you have won it, you can look back on it differently than someone who hasn’t. Six months out from a World Cup, if you start thinking about how close it is then you are no longer the same player. It is a horrible balance. The only way to truly protect yourself and control everything is to let it go. Go out there and say this is all I have got because that puts you in a better state of mind for the next game and the next game. Then by the World Cup, you are ready to go. Dealing with pressure is having that constant evidence in front of your eyes of taking on big challenges and it becoming who you are, not what you do. I face challenges. I go out there and this what you get from me – it gets better and better. It is a difficult mindset, you have to get on with it. While you are playing, it was just about the next game. After the World Cup finals in 2003 and 2007, I was more worried about the next game because I figured I had so much to prove.
BT: After the 2011 World Cup, I was on the plane to Japan one week later. 13 days later I was playing in front of an empty stadium and getting beat by an ordinary Japanese team. Within about three weeks of Japan, I had almost forgotten about the World Cup. The guys who I had invested time with, like I have with Leicester Tigers right now, I feel a responsibility towards the fans, to my teammates and the jersey which has been worn before me. You can laugh off Japan but they brought me there and I like to give more than what I am paid. Within three weeks, I was passionately all for the cause of that. That World Cup was the grand final of grand finals but like Jonny was saying you move on to the next thing. You refocus. Professional rugby players, the game is almost like the sun and the weeks revolve around it. After 22 years, I still sit in a changing room getting nervous before a game.
Is there a single component that every World Cup winning team needs to have?
BH: I look back at 2007, what really worked was first of all meticulous planning from our coaching staff. From 2004 they had a plan for where they were heading in three years. Also in 2007, the experience within the team played a vital role – guys like John Smit, Victor Matfield, Os Du Randt. Percy Montgomery was absolutely phenomenal – accurate with the boot and clear-headed decision making throughout that tournament. We had a great team work ethic, which was utterly vital. Whether you were in the starting XV or a non-playing reserve, the work ethic laid down from our leaders within the team was absolutely non-negotiable. That drive from the senior players really rubbed off on the younger guys. A guy like Frans Steyn was 19 and we had Percy hammering at him day in, day out throughout that World Cup.
BT: I would agree with that. Experience and culture are key.
JW: It is a tightness and a cohesion and a togetherness, which is built on respect and experience but it is ultimately driven and feeds on belief. All of those things that Bryan says, give you a reason to believe. You have got guys who have done it before and you hear them talking and it makes you look and think ‘Of course we can do this’. You look at the young guys coming through with incredible talent and you think ‘Of course we can do this’.
That’s the job of every single person whether that’s the guy in charge of the bus schedule, you have got to make it right and make it work for the team. If it is the senior players, making sure they do their job, get the right words in and lead from the front. Whether it is the young players to add that energy at every session and a level of respect. Whatever it is, it does not have to be perfect but you have to have a valid reason for believing why you can do it. You know if you are cheating yourself. You can be in the changing room before a game shouting ‘We can do this’ and everyone goes ‘Yeah, you’re right’. It’s not that. It is knowing why you can do this.
I’ll tell you why, because he’s one of the best players in the world, so’s he, so’s he, he’s been there and done everything, no one ever gets through him, we have beaten these guys already, our coaches love what they do, we know we are most professional and the fittest team, our facilities are the best – whatever it is at the end of it you know if those reasons are valid.
Can England be that team?
Of course they can. Look at those examples I have just given you. Yes they have got experience, yes they have got youth coming through, yes their facilities are wonderful, yes they have got the coaching talent. It’s all there. I spoke to Mike Brown and the way they talk about each other and you realise these guys are more than just teammates.
When you have a team that is full and so together it means that energy of the crowd can hit it and move it. If you are disjointed and have holes in your team then that wind of the crowd just blows through you.
When the crowd put the energy behind the team, England will feed off it because they are so tight.
Land Rover Ambassadors Jonny Wilkinson, Brad Thorn and Bryan Habana were speaking at the launch of ‘We Deal In Real’, Land Rover’s Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign which will champion the people that are at the heart and soul of the game by putting grassroots clubs on the global stage. www.landrover.com/rugby @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInRealShare on Facebook
Jonny Wilkinson plays down talk he is set to join Stuart Lancaster’s England coaching team for the 2015 World Cup
Posted by Sonja in Mar 29,2015 with No Comments
England’s record-breaking former fly-half Jonny Wilkinson would ‘love’ to work with the national team in a coaching capacity, but stressed he was not about to link up with them.
The 35-year-old had been reported to be on the verge of taking a kicking consultancy role with Stuart Lancaster’s team ahead of a crucial few months as they build towards a World Cup on home soil.
However, when quizzed about the stories, Wilkinson, who scored 1,179 points for his country in 91 appearances, said he remained committed to his coaching role at Toulon.
He told Sky Sports News HQ: ‘I love the England set-up and I love the boys and all that, but it’s not my job.
‘I’d love to do that, but I’m not coaching there. I’m not involved in any way. I coach with Toulon and it’s unfortunately something that’s been misreported, I think.’
The former British and Irish Lion was coy over England’s chances at the World Cup, which gets under way in September, but believes they have the tools to go deep into the tournament.
‘I think it would take a brave person to bet against England,’ he said. ‘Okay, you might not choose to bet for them, but I would definitely say it’s a brave decision to bet against them.
‘I look at England and I think they’ve got it all. There’s a lot of responsibility in these next coming months to really pick up the pace and intensity because that’s what’s going to count at the end.’
Wilkinson thinks Lancaster’s side should take heart from their performances in the recently concluded RBS 6 Nations, despite their third successive runners-up finish.
It is their displays, not results, which hearten Wilkinson, who added: ‘Ireland deserved to win but I think first, second and third all had a great run.
‘We’ve been pushing this idea, myself and a few other guys, just talking about how important the performance is.
‘I really think for for the first time people are understanding that you can’t win everything.
‘Okay, (England) lost in Ireland but Ireland lost to Wales – it happens, but the performances have shown this team is going somewhere, they’re on the move, they’re finding the right balances, they’re finding the
right combinations and also their energy is one where you have faith now.’
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Posted by Sonja in Mar 22,2015 with No Comments
Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Jason Robinson and the coach who led them to that victory, Sir Clive Woodward, will all be studio pundits for the tournament.
England will host the competition, which starts on September 18, and the achievements of Woodward’s side have set the benchmark for Stuart Lancaster’s current squad as they look to win on home soil.
Wilkinson unforgettably kicked the winning drop goal for the Red Rose against Australia in the final 12 years ago, while Robinson scored England’s only try in the topsy-turvy 20-17 triumph after extra-time.
George Gregan, who skippered Australia that day and also played in the victorious 1999 Wallabies side, is also part of ITV’s line-up.
Former Wales and Ireland skippers Gareth Thomas and Brian O’Driscoll will also be involved in the coverage, which will be led by presenter John Inverdale.
Thomas, the first openly gay professional rugby player, reprises his broadcasting role from 2011 and O’Driscoll watches a World Cup from the sidelines for the first time since 1995 after retiring from the game last year.
Former British and Irish Lions and Scotland coach Sir Ian McGeechan, victorious 1995 South Africa captain Francois Pienaar, New Zealand’s Sean Fitzpatrick, Australia’s Michael Lynagh and David Flatman complete the list of pundits.
Niall Sloane, ITV director of sport, said: “A Rugby World Cup hosted by England is a once in a generation event and it’s our privilege as the exclusive television broadcaster to bring viewers the full impact of all the action and emotion throughout what we hope will be an unforgettable tournament.
“We believe we’ve assembled a world-class line up of rugby talent who, through their own expertise, experience and sheer passion for the game can help deliver the best possible coverage for those watching at home.”Share on Facebook
Posted by Sonja in Mar 16,2015 with No Comments
Jonny Wilkinson spoke to Sky Sports about the famous rugby rivalry between England and France, as Stuart Lancaster’s men prepare for a Six Nations showdown with Les Bleus at Twickenham on Saturday.
On Saturday England bring an end to the 2015 Six Nations when they host France at Twickenham Stadium. It’s a game that could decide the competition, but even if that isn’t the case, the intensity in a packed Twickenham will be felt throughout the rugby community.
It’s an atmosphere and a rivalry that is familiar to one particular man who played for England against France many times, then for a French team against their English rivals in European competitions. It was a career that spanned 17 seasons; 12 with Newcastle and five with Toulon, and as an Englishman who left France a hero after those five years, there is no man better to reflect on Europe’s most famous rugby rivalry than Jonny Wilkinson.
“The first time I actually played them was in 1999 in the Five Nations as it was then,” Wilkinson told Sky Sports. “We won – it was one of those games that came down to penalties; it wasn’t a classic England and France encounter.
“My first one of those came in 2000, over in France, in a massively physically affair which we managed to win. I think we celebrated afterwards like it was a World Cup final, which illustrates what a big deal it was to beat France at that time.
“We ended up defending on our own line in that game with 14 men. You’re running around and it’s taking everything just to plug the holes.
“Once you learn from the one game it’s difficult not to let it sit in your mind and fester before the next one, so you go out there thinking ‘just don’t give them that early break’.“
Wilkinson played 91 Tests for England, and in that time played against the French on 14 occasions. His record against them is an impressive one, with nine victories coming in the Six Nations as well as two World Cups as England knocked out France in 2003 and 2007.
In the 2011 World Cup Les Bleus got revenge over their rivals, sending Martin Johnson’s England packing in a quarter-final in Auckland, bringing an end to Wilkinson’s career, but the man born in Frimley has only fond memories of the days leading up to an international against France.
“You treat every team and every game with the utmost respect because they deserve it,” said the former Toulon man. “But the preparation for the French game was different.
“You knew that in any performance from France there were going to be moments where you were going to be completely backs-to-the-wall and breathing hard. There was an anxiety about preparing for France because you just know that’s in there somewhere, and if it comes out, you’re in trouble.”
As young man Wilkinson got his first taste of rugby in France when he travelled as a replacement during Newcastle’s European campaign, and the experience never left him during his years as a player.
“I remember sitting on the bench for Newcastle against Agen and Perpignan and I’ve never been so intimidated in all my life.
“There is that side of French rugby that it is hugely energy and spirit-driven. They feed from each other, they feed from the crowd and they feed from the atmosphere.
“You can very quickly go from being right in the game and relatively in control to being completely out of it, almost to the point that you may as well down tools and head off for the day – it can happen that quickly.
“I think it’s quite exciting. It would be a real shame if there wasn’t that added something there.”
By the time Wilkinson and England had been excused from the 2011 World Cup by the French, Wilkinson had already been playing for Toulon for two seasons, having joined them from Newcastle at the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
It’s an experience that Wilkinson says gave him a good perspective on the French game, one that had until that point escaped him.
“There’s no doubt that having five years in the thick of the French culture – learning day in, day out about everything there – has been incredibly revealing.
“Also from a respect point of view I have even more respect for them. I had a lot to begin with but I have even more now.
By the time Jonny Wilkinson decided to hang up his boots, he did so as a legend of the game, and as an honorary citizen of Toulon. Despite being English, the man who sent Les Bleus out of two World Cups left as a favoured son of French rugby.
Typically, Wilkinson is hesitant to reflect on his own efforts when his reputation is brought up, and points instead to the love and passion of the French population.
“It’s impossible to put into words. You don’t know what to say, you just know that it’s an incredibly privileged position to be in.
“Amongst all the great values of people in an area of a country that love their sport; that love to go out there and support a team and have a passion for a game.
“The overriding thing is that it’s unconditional and it’s constant.
“You can’t go around shaking everyone’s hand but that’s how you feel. You want to, because to life and to everything it makes a difference. It makes for an experience where you say ‘thank god I made that move and thank god for the goodness in people in France and in Toulon’.”
Jonny Wilkinson is an Ambassador for GUINNESS, Official Beer of England Rugby. To view GUINNESS’ ‘Made of More’ campaign, celebrating the character and integrity of some of rugby’s greatest heroes, visit www.youtube.com/GUINNESSEurope
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Posted by Sonja in Mar 08,2015 with No Comments
Nice beard! Is it a sign that you’ve relaxed a bit since retiring from rugby last year?
Yeah… in my playing career, shaving was part of my routine. Get yourself sharp and ready and that’s how you’d be on the field. Almost: “This is me, and this is my way of getting ready to go out there and be my best.” But towards the end of my time playing in France for Toulon – maybe it’s something to do with the French way – I relaxed a little bit and this has been a continuation. But it’s very, very patchy on both sides and it’s not going to get any better than it is now. No matter how much I puff my cheeks out, it won’t grow.
You were famous for the intensity of your preparation and particularly your methodical approach to goal-kicking. Did it feel good to relax in France?
What’s amazing over there is that you played your rugby in the morning, but then you’d go from that to feeling – as a Brit – like you were on holiday. You can go to the beach, the sun is shining in the winter… You go even harder at the rugby, but you rest harder too.
Eddie Izzard tweeted a video of you giving a team talk simultaneously in English and French – he called it “pretty amazing”. Did you go out to France because you wanted to push yourself?
I had my French A-level and I tried to keep myself up to date in England by reading French novels. I’ve always wanted to speak languages. I can speak French now, and sometimes in interviews I’d be thinking in French and think, “I can’t find the right word in English.” I’ve been trying to learn Spanish for a while, too. But yeah, I was desperate to grow as a person. And going to France, you feel like there’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself a little bit.
You’ve often said you were worried about how you’d find a substitute for the buzz you had when you were playing. How hard has that proved to be?
The helpful thing for me was that it finished on such a high note [Toulon won both the 2014 Heineken Cup final and, the following week, the Top 14 final]. I have to admit, had I missed a kick on the buzzer to win the game, had I not come up with the goods, I wonder what sort of state I’d be in now. The straightest answer I can give is that the only way to cope was to make sure it never happened. I don’t think I could have coped with finishing on a losing note. The whole perfectionist angle of the career would have meant that it just wouldn’t have worked.
Isn’t that a horrendous amount of pressure to be under?
You are just staring at this big wall of pressure, thinking, “How the hell do I get over that?” It’s not a healthy place to spend much of your time.
You were at a school today, working with children on their rugby for Sky’s Living for Sport campaign. Was there part of you that considered hanging up your boots and never walking on a field again?
No, I have too much love for the intricacies and skills of rugby to ever stop doing it. And I’ve spent quite a lot of time on pitches of late, just kicking and kicking. I’ve done two-hour sessions, three-hour sessions, just on my own, and I’ve just fallen back in love with that side of it. I just want to stay there and do it; it’s almost like being a kid again.
Hold on… you still spend hours practising your goal-kicking?
I’m a perfectionist, I still want things to go amazingly well. And it’s my cathartic release, my spiritual training. It’s my way of just emptying my mind, and simplifying life. You just stop that noise in your mind. It just goes.
My nephew once sent you a drawing he’d done of you…
No, it’s fine – you sent back a very nice handwritten note. Do you reply to all your letters?
Yeah, I do. It takes a bit of a while at the moment, and there’s been a couple of times when letters – by my own fault – have got mislaid. One time I found some from a couple of years back and I ended up writing these responses on holiday one year. And I remember thinking that it was going to be very strange for these people opening a letter and thinking, “Oh God, I sent this years ago.” They probably thought, “I don’t even like this guy any more.”
There are a couple of videos on your website where you chat with your brother about films and you reveal a special fondness for Steven Seagal. Is this genuinely your taste in films?
It is. I grew up as a massive Arnold Schwarzenegger fan and it occasionally flirted over towards Jackie Chan and then Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. It’s not matured, that’s more or less where I’ve got to. I’m not sure where you can go after that. Very few people know where to go after that.
There was speculation you were going to be knighted in the New Year honours list, but it didn’t happen. Was that weird or embarrassing?
No, it was my friends I was worried about. I didn’t like all these people going to such effort to say well done, so I wanted to address it a little bit [on Twitter]. But I didn’t quite know how to respond, so I tried to just keep everyone happy. But, do you know, it’s not about that sort of thing. I really appreciate the system and how things work, but it’s not just the case that we should idolise people in the public eye because they’ve done this or that.
As the World Cup approaches, what could the current England team learn from your 2003 squad that won the trophy?
In 2003, we knew so much individually about one another, we’d been through so much together. A lot of the stuff took place instinctively: it was by feel rather than by design or communication. But I do believe this England team is on to something. There’s a lot of youthful enthusiasm and desire at the moment, and they also have an incredible discipline about them as well. They just have to keep reinforcing the good evidence we’ve seen in the Six Nations until it becomes an inevitability. So yeah, why not?
Jonny Wilkinson is an ambassador for Sky AcademyShare on Facebook