England Greats: Worth the Hype? – Jonny Wilkinson

On the 27th November 2010, Dan Carter made rugby history as a penalty from halfway took him past Jonny Wilkinson’s record of 1, 178 international test points, confirming him as one of the greatest players in its history and arguably its greatest ever fly half. The man he surpassed is another considered to be one of England and rugby’s finest players.

But what exactly defines a great player, a legend of the game, a sporting icon? What is it that separates these men from the merely very good, ensuring that they will be revered long after their careers have finished? In the case of David Campese, the Australian winger who won 101 caps for his country, it was his unrivalled technical ability. In the case of England’s world cup winning captain Martin Johnson, his leadership prowess has booked his place in rugby’s hall of fame.

Wilkinson has laid significant claim to join this list, and just a brief glance at his career lends weight to his case. The man who put his career on the line for the World Cup certainly has the credentials: 80 caps at the time of writing, a record England points total, six caps for the British and Irish Lions, 2003 IRB player of the year, with many more accolades to his name.

But are caps, points and awards enough to make Wilkinson ‘great’? In my mind, the difference between these players and the ‘very good’ is something not entirely quantifiable. Great players have the ability to affect others around them, as well as impressing personally. Martin Johnson was not the most technically gifted of players, but his presence on the field lifted those around him to higher levels. It is this capacity that separates the very best players from those with similar records to their name, and it is this that Wilkinson may lack.

Commentators past and present have stated that Wilkinson does in fact possess this rare talent, and have used it to press his claims for inclusion even when he has been short of form. Then again, the majority is not always right. It has been said that Wilkinson was reliant on Matt Dawson and Will Greenwood to tell him what to do, and heavily influenced his key decisions. It is also the case that Wilkinson has always been successful when in a successful team, and while I readily admit this would naturally be the case for the vast majority of players, it is his years at Newcastle Falcons that interest me most. During the 2000s Newcastle struggled to make an impact on the Premiership, and were potential relegation candidates seemingly every year. Surely having world cup winning Jonny Wilkinson on their books would have seen them fare better. Rugby is in all aspects a team game, but great players, such as Wilkinson, are known to lift their teammates to higher levels and better performances. Compare this section of Jonny’s career with his times with England and most recently Toulon, and it does seem that he, despite his obvious talents, performs best when directed by others.

If Wilkinson does not have the rare ability to lift others around him, can he be truly considered a great of the game, someone to walk in the same company as the likes of Johnson and Campese? His natural talents and records are such that he will be revered by the English public for the foreseeable future, but this is arguably a pedestal he does not deserve, and should be reserved for someone to truly capture his nation’s hearts.

Alexander Mccafferty

12 Comments on this post.
  • JDA
    8 February 2011 at 11:38
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    I’m not sure I can entirely take your point here-if we look at Wilkinsons time with Newcastle when fit (pre-2003) they where actually not bad considering the teams position and resources: two sixth placed finishes, a league title and a Hinekan cup spot as well as the Powergen Cup (as it was then) and a quarter final in the HC. Its certainly not a list of huge success to but when you consider the club was in turmit after the withdrawal of Sir John Hall and the loss of a huge amount of players.

    It is, however, his international credentals that are truely impressive particually when you consider how young Johnny was when he was at his height-he was only 23 when he kicked that drop goal in the World Cup final, an age at which Dan Carter was only establishing himself of the International scene. To lead a side from the most pivitol position on the field to 3 six nations titles (including two grand slams) and a world cup by just 23, to rack up 7 tries as well as the best kicking stats of any kicker… well to deny he’s a great would be very harsh.

    Lets not forget how he redifined the role of fly-half as well. He’s the reason why none tackling fly-halves in the Rob Andrew, Stuart Barnes, Charlie Hodgeson etc. vein are no longer commidated in the International game (Aside from Quade Cooper). His level of excellence in every facit of the game put him, IMO, ahead of every fly half in the game when fit and on form. He can be a devistating attacking player with his half break and skitter step as was evidenced through his stewardship of the side in the 2003 Grand Slam where England broke many scoring records and his 7 international tries (If you watch any Top 14 you can see his ability in attack as well). His defense is still impressive, his mental fortitude incredible (remember he kicked that drop goal in 2003 with a broken shoulder!) and his kicking from hand and from the tee some of the best we’ve seen.

    In short its very easy to belittle Wilkos achievements after all the injuries he’s had but remember the guy essentally had 6 years out of the top level of the game due to injury. In just 5 years of international Rugby he became top points scorer, won everything there was to win and had he remained fit after 2003 he’d have every record in the book. Englands inability to fill the FH position during his injured years before the emergance of Flood shows just how vital he was as a player. He’ll go down as an Enland great and quite possibly one of the greatest players in the history of the game having broken every record and redefinied his position before the age of 23…

  • b
    8 February 2011 at 11:38
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    He is great and that is that!

  • MSP
    8 February 2011 at 13:43
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    “Martin Johnson was not the most technically gifted of players” not sure thats correct, yes his leadership skills were renowned but I think you’ll find he was a pretty technically gifted second row.

    As for Wilkinson’s supposed reliance on dawson and greenwood. There is only room for so many leaders in any team. A rugby team of 15 leaders would be pointless. Vickery, Johnson,Dawson, Dallaglio, Hill, Greenwood, Robinson (all england captains) were in that england team so I dont think we needed a particularly vocal fly half. Carter has a different role for NZ as they have no established scrum half or (until recently) centres.

    The mere fact that he would have to be considered in any conversation about the best player to ever have played the game (despite a horrific spell of injuries) should tell you that he is truly a great!

  • SH
    8 February 2011 at 17:59
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    I feel this is remarkably harsh and somewhat crass and lazy journalism. You mention that during the 2000s Newcastle didn’t fare very well with Wilkinson on their books, however he was injured for the majority of the time! You also claim that he does not seem to influence others, however Sonny Bill Williams, after leaving Toulon, said that Jonny inspired him to become the player he is now (a pretty good one!) Also, you forget that during the 2007 WC, England were a shambles until Jonny came back into the team, and when he did England remained unbeaten until the final.
    Jonny is one of the very few true greats, fact.

  • JJJ
    9 February 2011 at 03:18
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    Totally agree with SH. This is a prime example of lazy journalism, and hopefully you’ll find that as easy it is to cut the greats down with one-sided statistics and ignorant statements, it’s better to be objective, and not to go against the mainstream for the sake of it. Jonny Wilkinson is a living rugby legend, and yes, his “caps, points and awards” are enough to make him great. He won a World Cup, for crying out loud, he was one of best players in that competition, and he kicked the winning points.

    • Tim
      9 February 2011 at 20:18
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      Some of you people are just idiots this is an opinion which should formulate debate. this is not lazy journalism, it is a well researched piece of writing in which the author has given his formulated opinion using facts to back up what he says. Your statements are merely reductive, unhelpful and totally ridiculous.

  • Lazy comment writing
    9 February 2011 at 11:39
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    Yeah, how lazy of this person to volunteer to write for the university’s student magazine. A prime example of someone lazily turning up to a Sports section meeting, lazily taking time out of their day to lazily write an article for no money. How dare he then formulate his own opinion on the matter. This is SHEER LAZINESS.

  • Andy
    9 February 2011 at 17:30
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    This article is so full of whimsical opinion, unsubstantiated facts and ill-researched claims that it angers me!

  • Jack
    9 February 2011 at 20:21
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    This is a student run magazine designed to express the opinions of its students, not to formulate exact details of a player. Opinion in journalism is a good thing, and more significantly it creates debate, your comment (SH and JJJ) exemplify this point exactly, why dont you write something productive instead of commenting on the ‘lazy’ journalistic style of Alex.

  • CR
    10 February 2011 at 12:30
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    opinion is good in journalism and this article has obviously stimulated debate, however I think the author has used generalisations and biased arguements to put forward his opinion. Opinions can still be wrong and I agree with the comments above that in this is a poor article.

  • JJJ
    10 February 2011 at 13:31
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    Agreed. Doesn’t mean the writer shouldn’t try again though…I reckon it’s still very well written, stylistically speaking.

  • What a
    11 February 2011 at 02:21
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    Bunch of commenting w*****s

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