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 #WeDealInReal

Source: Telegraph

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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.’


Source: Daily Mail

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Jonny Wilkinson joins ITV as World Cup pundit

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.”

Source: Yahoo Sport

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Jonny Wilkinson: retirement made me feel like less of a man

Posted by Sonja in Mar 20,2015 with No Comments

Jonny Wilkinson eats oranges with the same meticulous care that characterised his rugby career.

Minutes after we sit down to discuss his life beyond the game, the former England and Toulon fly-half begins picking at the fruit’s flesh. It’s no easy-peeler: Wilkinson fashions flake after flake of skin, stacking them in a small, neat pile in front of him.

The process takes the best part of ten minutes – partly because he’s so careful to de-skin the orange, but mainly because he’s talking at the same time. As a way into the interview, I’ve asked him about the genesis of his decision to quit professional rugby after winning the French League and European Cup double with Toulon last summer. It turns out Wilkinson needs little warming up.

“I had a few good goes at retirement,” he says, orange held in hand. “I looked at it hard in October 2012, when I was dealing with retiring from England rugby. I found it painful.

“I was agonising so hard that I now realise there shouldn’t have been that agony. If there’s agony, your head’s trying to tell you something that your heart doesn’t want.”

He pauses, loosens a segment of orange and holds it in his fingers.

By February the following year, Wilkinson says he had decided to “go again”; another season with Toulon, which would start in the Autumn of 2013. Once that season kicked off, however, he knew it would be his last: “The moment I decided I was going to retire was when I started asking too many questions in terms of doing what I was doing. I realised I wasn’t seeing the picture as clearly as I had before. I felt like my heart was dropping out and my head was taking over.”

Pop. In goes the segment of orange.

The answer, like the orange-eating technique, is typical of the man. On the pitch, Wilkinson was known for his obsessive attention to detail, often staying behind for hours after team training to perfect his kicking technique. Off the pitch, he is just as thorough, turning questions over in his mind and working them through to logical – if occasionally overwrought – conclusions. A likeably intense and intensely likeable character, it’s easy to see why, despite a 16-year career in the media spotlight, a word has never been written in anger about the man the French call Saint Jonny.

Wilkinson is at a tricky point in his life. His last game for Toulon – an 18-10 win over Castres in the Top 14 final – was ten months ago. At the end of the game, such was the outpouring of veneration for the fly-half that the stadium PA system played God Save The Queen. In France. How has he dealt with his sudden withdrawal from the emotional cauldron of competitive sport?

He beings by speaking of the “enormous relief” he felt the morning after the cup final – but as his answer develops, he admits that the start of the new season sent pangs of regret through his mind.

“People were talking about Toulon and it wasn’t about me any more,” he says. “I imagine it’s the same for someone who retires from a business. Suddenly people say: ‘now we’re doing this thing’; ‘this is really good’. You think: ‘hold on, is it better now than it was when I was there?’ Is it because I was holding you back? Did I not matter? Why aren’t people saying they want me back?

“Retirement for a lot of people and certainly for me is about motivation. It’s also about losing your identity. In a rugby sense, when you’re not out there giving it everything, you become the opposite, the antithesis of what you first were. You were the big, full, proud, look-at-me macho guy; now you’re the empty shell. You’re worth nothing.

“When that identity crisis kicks in, you feel a little bit less of a man. Less value.”

From almost anyone else, those would sound like heavy words; from Wilkinson, they’re simply evidence of the self-interrogative style that propelled his years of success. The constant analysis of his own actions and questioning of his perceived value over the past ten months has seen Wilkinson slowly hone in on how he wants to spend his time post-rugby. For now, he’s settled on coaching a few days a month at Toulon, working on his Fineside clothing label with his brother, and developing healthy nutrition products.

Importantly, he seems comfortable with his new-found position in life. “Rugby is extremely regular. What I call the Judgment Day comes around almost every week. So you get into a very fast cycle of building up for something huge, Judgement Day, big analysis, and repeat. The learning cycle is very quick.

“Life can seem a bit quiet without that – but in a way it depends how you view it. By the end of my career, I was viewing it as something I wanted to get away from. Now I don’t miss it.”

I ask whether that means his character has changed since he left the game. Wilkinson peels off another segment of orange, then launches into a stream-of-consciousness response.

“I think so. More open, more willing to listen, more open minded, quieter, calmer, slower, bit more patient, more tolerant. The urgency has gone. The urgency of that ‘got to get this bit right here, got to analyse who made the mistake, got to find out who … angry because they said that about me, whatever, or they said that or it should have been him.

“Build up … time is of the essence. Got to get my preparation right. Who are we playing? Intense nerves, what that does to your behaviour, eating, digestion, everything. Locking myself away in my room, wanting to be quiet, watch TV.

“Now with that openness, there’s a willingness to make the most of every moment, willingness to go do things. Patience as well in terms of there’s no big rush. If someone said to me before: ‘well we’ve got a great couple of days there, Wednesday, Thursday, but there’s a game Saturday’, I’d be like: ‘well I can’t possibly think about Wednesday, Thursday’. It had to be ‘oh my god this is so much pressure’. Whereas now, you think ‘I can relax’.”

Does that mean he’s become an easier person to live with?

“Without a doubt. I think in a way I was married to the game for too long in every respect. I never saw my other half. When I did have time off, I was going kicking, I was going training. I hammered training, then your weekend is so dependant on how the game’s gone, and your week is dependant on how the last game went and how big is the next game. It impacts whether or not you can actually have fun.”

“I think Shelley [Wilkinson married Shelley Jenkins in 2003] is quite happy to have me at home now.”

It’s clear that rugby was all-consuming for Wilkinson; a 24/7 pursuit that required Zen-like dedication. I mention the high instance of professional footballers who declare themselves bankrupt after retiring from the game and ask whether sportsman should be offered more support to reintegrate them back to ‘normal’ society after retirement.

“It’s very difficult because sportsmen are paid so much to lead a privileged lifestyle,” he replies. “To play a sport that you love and get paid is just a joy, it’s everyone’s dream. And you get paid a lot more than other people. So It’s hard for people to stomach the idea that we need to help sportsmen find work or find value of worth in the community. It’s not the most obvious thing to do.”

He points to a recent Guinness advert, which sees half of Toulon come out to eulogise their ‘Saint Jonny’, as evidence of this paradox. The intensity and adulation of their daily existence builds sportsmen into supermen – but it also means they’re cut no slack when they lose their powers.
Wilkinson believes that he had a taster of the experience early in his career, when a series of debilitating injuries saw him all but disappear from the rugby world for three consecutive years. “I lost my identity massively and struggled with a hell of a lot of things,” he says of the period. “In a way, ironically, I was lucky to have all those injuries. It probably meant I was more ready for that change of identity this time round.”

Now that he’s out of the game for good, Wilkinson says that his experience can help others who fall off the cliff edge at the end of their sporting careers. He’s also setting up a Jonny Wilkinson foundation to share his knowledge of what it takes to succeed – whether that be within sport or otherwise.

“I have this value system that’s been channelled through years and years of playing rugby. It’s about getting the best out of yourself and those around you. Physically, mentally, emotionally and as a team. It’s looking at people’s routes from where they are to where they want to be, and the story between.

“I’m moving the template into managerial development areas, life areas. I want to focus on helping people get from A to B – but I don’t have the answers, so it’s a sharing experience and it requires learning and research. I can’t stand here and say ‘this is how you do it’. I haven’t got a clue. All I know what to do is share my philosophy. Working in a team does wonders for you.

“I’m very privileged, my career has been an amazing thing. I’ve been supported all my life. Now I have to chuck it back to other people. Whoever they are, wherever they are, try and inspire them to have a journey like I’ve just had.”

I want to ask him more – about the crossover between business and sport, about the possibility of one day moving into management, about apparently missing out on a Knighthood and – most importantly – about his love of Steven Seagal movies. But our time is up.

As I get up to leave, a waiter brings two giant ham rolls and sits them down in front of Wilkinson, who offers effusive thanks. I’m saddened that I won’t be around to watch him eat them.

Source: Telegraph

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Jonny Wilkinson admits there was always an ‘anxiety’ about England’s preparations to face France

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’.“

Anxiety

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.”

Unconditional

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

Source: Sky Sports

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Jonny Wilkinson: ‘I was desperate to grow as a person’

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…
Oh-kay…

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 Academy

Source: The Guardian.com

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Jonny Wilkinson and I have a bond that can never be broken, says coaching guru Steve Black

Posted by Sonja in Mar 04,2015 with No Comments

They go together like Ant and Dec, Morecambe and Wise, Black and Decker, Fortnum and Mason, fish and chips.

Jonny Wilkinson, probably the finest No 10 ever witnessed on a rugby field, and his Geordie mentor Steve Black.

Blood brothers, maybe father and son.

Both linked once again last evening as joint winners of the Sports Personality award on a glittering night of black tie and bibs under the chandeliers of the Newcastle Civic Centre.

Except that they weren’t actually together at Sport Newcastle’s annual bash for the good and the great.

Blackie was there to take the applause but Jonny was thousands of miles away holed up in Thailand.

Having been in the Far East on business, his wife Shelley took ill, and instead of flying back for his Geordie night and his third Sports Personality award to go with his 2002 and 2004 gongs, Wilkinson was at her bedside.

However, father Phil, mother Philippa and brother Mark, all of whom still live on Tyneside, were in the audience representing the Wilkinson dynasty.

The night was a fitting finale to the completion of Blackie’s partnership with Wilko as coach and mentor with player.

They will inevitably work on together in several projects, but Jonny has hung his boots on a nail in the cupboard after a glittering career which saw him win the English and French championships, twice become a European champion by lifting the Heineken Cup, with it all topped off of course by his epic dropped goal that famously claimed the World Cup for England in 2003.

Both he and Black cemented their joint Newcastle awards for 2015 with massive celebrations – Jonny ended his playing career by winning the Top 14 championship and Heineken Cup with Toulon while Steve was at Wembley sitting in the QPR dug-out as they dramatically gained promotion to the Premier League by succeeding in the First Division Play Off final.

“Aye, it’s been a wonderful partnership – very, very special indeed,” Blackie told me.

“We’ve been together since Jonny came up to Newcastle as a teenager in 1997. I flew over to Toulon regularly during his years in France, and though he’s stopped playing now we have so many other projects we’re working on at the moment.

“We’re like brothers, or a young father and son! The bond will never be broken.”

Blackie wasn’t there when skipper Wilkinson raised the Heineken Cup aloft with Toulon in Cardiff – he was at Wembley supporting Joey Barton et al – but, soccer season over, Steve made it to Paris for the Top 14 finale.

“It was the very last match of Jonny’s illustrious career, but his hunger, his desire, and his chase for perfection was still burning brightly inside him,” revealed Black. “He knew he wouldn’t play another game of rugby but it wasn’t a matter of ‘high fives andlet’s go.’ We still went through his meticulous preparation on match morning. We still addressed the usual trigger points of physical preparation, management of his energy levels etc etc.

“Jonny is pretty well unique in that he has retained his hunger, his relentless sky-high level, throughout a long career. That’s why he has a special place in sport’s hall of fame never mind just rugby.

“That is how he became England, European and World Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He also won France’s equivalent award playing for Toulon. I don’t think many English sportsmen have done that!”

How did the highly personal Black-Wilkinson partnership materialise at Newcastle Falcons? It began upon the birth of professional rugby when a bright teenage prospect headed north to join his former school teacher Steve Bates, then a coach at Kingston Park.

His arrival went mostly unnoticed as Sir John Hall imported some of the world’s greatest names, but his impact in such exalted company was still immediate. “Naturally I was coaching the whole squad,” recalled Steve, “but despite the array of talent Jonny still stood out because of his intensity, his brightness, talent, and willingness to work and learn.

“My coaching style was such that I always worked closely with individuals and so it developed with Jonny. I worked on body, mind, heart, and spirit and that seemed to appeal to him.

“I had mentored other young sportsmen like Lee Clark and Steve Watson at Newcastle United and my relationship with Jonny started out in the same way.”

Ironically, perhaps appropriately, Black was presented with the Sport Newcastle Coach of the Year award in the same Civic Centre venue many moons ago when Wilkinson was named as one of their Rising Stars.

While Wilkinson went on to lift the championship and the Tetley’s Bitter Cup twice at Twickenham with the Falcons, he seemed haunted by injuries after the World Cup triumph of 2003, whereas at Toulon a battered body appeared to hold up well. How come?

“Jonny never suffered muscular injuries,” explained Blackie.

“His trouble was that as the bravest of players he endured a lot of car crashes. When you are around 13st and have a 20st Tongan hitting you side-on you suffer. Your body isn’t made to absorb that sort of punishment.

“The difference when he went to Toulon is that they had the best pack in the world and it gave Jonny a platform to sit behind it and do his most telling work. He wasn’t less brave, he just didn’t have to go round putting out fires all the time.

“Jonny was, in my opinion, the greatest tackling No 10 who ever lived, but that wasn’t needed at Toulon.

“He was a god out there. He was revered. The opposition players used to come up to him before games and ask for his autograph! Imagine that.

“Jonny was made captain because of his huge influence. A captain in rugby is much more influential than in football and he was the best.

“He spoke fluent French in the dressing-room and in Press interviews. The fans loved that because it was like he was one of them.

“I remember him being asked to speak about quantum physics at a seminar in Paris after we had written a book speaking of it. He shared a stage with two Nobel Prize winners and held his own, delivering his speech in perfect French. I was so proud of him.

“Jonny embraced the culture and the language. He immersed himself in everything.”

So where does the bearded Geordie rate Wilkinson in the history of world rugby?

“Well, I was on Graham Henry’s coaching panel with Wales and the Lions,” replied Blackie.

“Graham was a magnificent coach who won the World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011, so he has seen and worked with legendary stars and he told me that if he had to pick a side to win a game Wilkinson would be his No 10.

“When England reached the World Cup final in 2007 I was staying with Graham and the All Blacks in Toulouse, though I spoke to Jonny every day.

“England were hammered in an early game 36-0 by South Africa but incredibly went on to play them in the final. I believe Wilkinson’s greatest influence was on that team rather than the 2003 side.

“He had been out injured, he hadn’t played for a while, missing the debacle against the Springboks, yet he drove them to the final. Graham Henry said England had no right to be in the final but Jonny got them there.

“I’ve worked with some of the greatest No 10s like Rob Andrew and Neil Jenkins, but I rate Jonny the best ever.

“I know I’m biased and I know that Barry John would rightly receive great support in any pub argument but I have to go with Jonny.

“Basketball coach John Wooden, who was voted the greatest coach who ever lived, said competitive greatness was being the best when the best was needed. Well no one did that better than Jonny Wilkinson.”

Source: CHroniclelive.com

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Jonny Wilkinson to become patron of Tiny Lives charity in Newcastle

Posted by Sonja in Mar 02,2015 with No Comments

Rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson is set to become the first patron of a charity that helps thousands of premature babies born at a Newcastle hospital.

By becoming patron of the Tiny Lives Trust, former Newcastle Falcon Jonny will help boost the charity’s international reputation – and its life saving work.

The former England star has long been a dedicated supporter of the organisation, which supports premature children and their families from Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Now, after retiring from the professional game at the end of last season, Jonny has decided to take on the role of official patron.

The 35-year-old said: “I became a patron for Tiny Lives because I have been lucky enough to see the most hard-working, dedicated and loving team doing what they do each and every day to save such precious little lives.

“I also have a very good friend who has benefited from the skills, care and support of the staff on the Special Care Baby Unit.

“I would encourage people across the region to fundraise for Tiny Lives to help families at a critical time in their lives because Tiny Lives provides incredible support to not only the staff and babies on the Special Care Baby Unit but also to the babies’ families. I can only stress what an incredible charity Tiny Lives is. I’m proud to be a ‘tiny’ part of it.”

The charity is also one of just five causes close to his heart that Jonny has chosen to benefit from funds raised during his testimonial year, which will involve a series of high profile events in London, Monaco, Dubai and Hong Kong, attended by international sports stars and celebrities to mark the end of his record-breaking rugby career.

Tiny Lives provides a range of vital equipment and services to over 800 of the North East and Cumbria’s most sick and premature babies and their families every year on the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).

As well as being England’s goal-kicking hero at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, Jonny also collected 91 caps and was a key player with Newcastle Falcons for more than 12 years. He went on to play for French club Toulon, before retiring from professional rugby at the end of the 2014 season.

He has also launched his own clothing range with his brother Mark, called Fineside.

Carol Meredith, head of The Tiny Lives Trust said: “We are delighted that Jonny is supporting our work and helping us to raise awareness of the issue of premature birth that affects hundreds of families across the North East every year.

“We are seeing a rise in demand for our services and we are so grateful to our fundraisers and sponsors as without them this would not be possible.

“When Tiny Lives was first founded around 35 years ago, it was to raise money for equipment, but now we also fund research and provide a wide range of family support.

“This includes emotional and financial help for parents during the weeks and months that their baby is in special care and also after they leave, as their journey does not always end there.”

Incredible twins Jake and Kyle French know all about how important Tiny Lives is.

The pair arrived in the world weighing little over 1lb each, just 23 weeks into mum Nichola’s pregnancy.

Medical research has shown babies born before the 24 week mark – the current legal limit for an abortion – rarely survive.

But Kyle and Jake, of Hebburn, South Tyneside, were determined to prove the medics wrong.

Nichola, 30, said: “I knew the chances weren’t good and we were told to prepare for the worst.

“But I just kept thinking ‘please, please hang on for another 24 hours’.

“The doctors did everything they could to delay the birth, they put me on a drip and I was given steroid injections to help develop the babies’ lungs.”

In the end, Nichola was only two hours off reaching the 24-week mark when she gave birth to Jake. Kyle arrived almost two hours later.

After 18 weeks in hospital, the twins were finally allowed home where today they are coming along in leaps and bounds.

Now, dad Colin, 42, is now taking to the skies to say thank you to the charity who helped his boys.

He said: “Thanks to the care and support given by the doctors and nurses in the Special Care Baby Unit, and to the equipment and training funded by Tiny Lives, we now have two amazing little boys who continue to go from strength to strength and meet milestones like any other baby.

“We spent 123 days in SCBU which saw some days no parent should have to go through. Including Jake & Kyle’s first Christmas.

“To say thank you, we are doing a Skydive on June 27 at Teesside Airport to raise funds to help continue the fantastic work that is done by Tiny Lives, ensuring the same support is given to more and more families in similar situations.”

To sponsor Colin, go to www.justgiving.com/Colin-French1

Source: Chroniclelive

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Jonny Wilkinson: I could have thrown my life away with concussions

Posted by Sonja in Feb 11,2015 with No Comments

As ever, Jonny Wilkinson was hurling himself into the tackle with abandon. “It was against Bayonne, away,” he recalls. “I went to smash their back row and caught his elbow right on the chin. I reeled away and hit the floor, came to a little and thought, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

He was in that dangerous, insensate daze, of the same kind that assailed George North when the Welsh wing fell flat on the Cardiff turf last Friday night. “The Toulon medical staff told me, ‘You’re not right, you have to come off,’ ” Wilkinson says.

“Then I noticed my wrist was really sore. I looked at the video and saw that when I fell, my elbow went right over the wrist. So, I sat down on the bench, and Felipe Contepomi went on in my place.

“Seven minutes later, he was back beside me, because he had been knocked out as well. He was face down on the floor, face in the mud, with his arms splayed out. When he came around, he kept asking me the same question, over and over again. I told him, ‘You have already asked me this, God knows how many times.’ I looked at Felipe and thought, ‘Are you concussed and I’m not?’ I knew exactly what the score was, what was happening in the game. I asked myself whether I should still have been out there.”

It is complex for Wilkinson. Everything always is. The intrinsic perils of rugby have instinctively been embraced to the exclusion of any notion of self-preservation. Last season, however, another grimly similar incident against Exeter in the Heineken Cup gave him pause.

“It rattled my head so much, my brain must have moved. I went to walk off and I felt as if I was going over my toes. I was stumbling around, seeing stars.”

The problem, one highlighting the imperative for clear concussion protocols, was that nobody could definitively instruct him on what to do next. “I needed someone to tell me, clearly, if I was playing or not,” Wilkinson argues. “Who is qualified to make that decision? You tend to know your own body the best. But sometimes, the person looking after you has his or her hands tied by the club, by the pressures of promotion or relegation. No wonder it is a tough area. No wonder no one can find the answer.”

Wilkinson has withstood more than his reasonable quotient of big hits. Opeti Fonua, the Tongan No 8 often dubbed a tank in human form, steamrollered him with such ferocity during Toulon’s game against Agen in 2013 that he lay splayed on the field like a rag doll. Despite being passed fit to carry on after a cursory concussion check, he left the field moments later clutching a giant ice pack.

It is in reliving episodes like this that Wilkinson, for all his notorious obsessiveness, questions whether it was all worth it. He has been married for 18 months. He might want children. He might wish to carry on the mentoring he is conducting here for the Sky Academy on the playing fields of Guildford County School, where his teenage pupils in a kicking class are being taught to bisect the posts with that familiar metronomic brilliance.

What bewilders Wilkinson, in retrospect, is why he would put all of this at such risk. “What I do know, having retired, is how long a life you have after the game,” he says.

“During your career you think, ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’ But I look back at some of the decisions I made and I wonder about them.

“This is serious now. This is my life. I’ve got another 50 years of it, I hope. I look back and I think that I could have been throwing all that away, just because I wanted to play another 20 minutes in one game, showing the guys that I was up for it and proving to myself that I could do it. I’ve watched guys take hits, and I’ve taken a few myself where I have been completely out of it.”

The complication, he claims, is in coming to any quick judgments about the severity of a head injury. “One concussion could look worse than another and not be. Dean Ryan was knocked out in a game at Gateshead against Bath, soon after I had arrived at Newcastle. He was ready to go back on and the doctors told him not to. I watched that back recently, thinking, ‘Thank God he didn’t. It was a bad one. I appreciate that I have a long life. I tend to think now, ‘This is fun. I want it to last longer than my rugby did’.”

We should not presume from this that Wilkinson is finding the experience of being put out to pasture a seamless one. To speak to him during the grip of his rugby addiction was
to fear that he might be crawling up the wall the day that he finally hung up his spikes.

We should be simply be grateful, then, that last summer he was able to achieve the denouement at Toulon he craved, with a famous double of European and French domestic glory.

For he does even allow himself to contemplate what could have happened otherwise.

“It was all about how it would end,” he admits. “If I had faced a kick to win one of those games and it hadn’t gone right, what would I be doing now? Would I be saying,
‘Please sign me up, I’ll take any contract, just get me back in that team so that I can put it right?’ It would have been hard. That’s all I know. I would have struggled, hugely. There has to be a point where you say, ‘This is it’.

When I played tennis with my brother, we used to knock up balls for hours. And it was always a case of ‘one more, one last set’. Whereas I knew, this time, that my last shot would really be the last. And it scared the hell out of me.”

Wilkinson is a character so racked by self-reproach that he still, extraordinarily, castigates himself for mistakes that he made 20 years ago. He has won a World Cup, a Six Nations Grand Slam, every trophy there is to win in France, but he continues to torture himself over tiny lapses in regular-season games that everybody else has long forgotten about.

“I threw an interception last year against Grenoble, which lost us the game in the final two minutes. Even now, an image from that moment will flash up in my head and stop me dead.”

I look askance at him, but he is being serious. “I have done it all my life. There have been certain things I have regretted in my career, which have stuck in my mind, and I still think about them. I can go through a day being really happy, and then think, ‘Oh, God.’ It could be a fluffed kick back when I was really young. There are bad games with England where I think, ‘I just can’t go there.’

“If I go into that hole, I just can’t get out. And the most serious hole would have been created by the last game. Fortunately, the final note I left on was standing at the top of the steps lifting a trophy. I can handle that.”

Source: Telegraph

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Jonny Wilkinson: Sky Academy Ambassador holds Sky Sports Living for Sport skills session

Posted by Sonja in Feb 11,2015 with No Comments

Sky Academy Ambassador, Jonny Wilkinson, visited Guildford County School as part of Sky Academy initiative, Sky Sports Living for Sport, to inspire students to achieve their potential by taking part in a practical rugby skills session.

In Jonny’s first visit in his new Ambassador role, he met over 30 students who have benefited from taking part in Sky Sports Living for Sport He was joined by Sky Sports Living for Sport Athlete Mentors, Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi and captain of the GB National Wheelchair Rugby Team, Steve Brown, who held a practical Six Keys to Success session based around the life skills athletes identified as helping them find success in sport.
Students had the opportunity to hear Jonny talk about his personal experiences about how the life skills learnt through sport have helped him on and off the pitch.

“It was fantastic to meet the students at Guildford County School. You could see how much they are getting out of taking part in Sky Academy by being involved in a Sky Sports Living for Sport project,” said Wilkinson.

“It is teaching them about many of the skills and behaviours that I learnt on the pitch over the years that have helped me so much throughout all aspects of my life.”

Nikki Sullivan, PE teacher at Guildford County School said: “Having Jonny, Maggie and Steve here has been a fantastic boost for our students, motivating them to give and achieve their very best in sport and beyond. It’s really put the spotlight on sport’s role in building valuable life skills. Our students have shown great focus in their rugby activities with Jonny. He embodies what can be achieved, with determination, both on the sports pitch and in life. I’m sure our students will reflect on and remember what they’ve learnt today for years to come.

“Our partnership with Sky Sports Living for Sport has been inspirational for both the students and the school as a whole. It has provided a fresh, positive challenge to extend our students’ development beyond the curriculum.”

Jonny has joined a team of Ambassadors, including Great Britain Olympic Champions Jessica Ennis-Hill and Darren Campbell, plus our Irish Ambassador Olympic Boxer Katie Taylor, alongside our team of 90 world-class Athlete Mentors who visit schools and support teachers to deliver Sky Sports Living for Sport.

The Sky Sports Living for Sport initiative has been running in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust since 2003 and this academic year alone over 1500 UK secondary schools and 175 Irish secondary schools will take part in Sky Sports Living for Sport.

To find out more or to get involved with Sky Sports Living for Sport visit www.skysports.com/livingforsport

Source: Sky Sports.com

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