The No 10 shirt for the Royall Lyme Rugby World Cup XV goes to England’s Jonny Wilkinson. Remembered for the kick that won a world cup, Wilkinson brought a precision and dedication to the role of fly half that few could match.
Jonny Wilkinson the Perfect 10
When Wilkinson announced his retirement from rugby back in 2014 I wrote a piece on his playing career and contribution to the game. Rather than focus solely on the RWC match winning kick, I looked at his career in the round and why he was so respected by his peers. His dedication in training and commitment in contact on the field, coupled with his consistency with the boot and his ability to read the game saw him referred to as the best to ever play the game.
That is an impressive title to hold and one which I’m sure the humble ‘Wilko’ would be quick to dismiss. Ever the team player he spent his whole career trying to avoid the spotlight and would deflect praise onto the team’s performance. It was a task which became near impossible after ‘that drop goal’.
In rugby no one action or one player is responsible for a result, be it a win or a loss, and Wilkinson’s iconic contribution to England’s victory in 2003 was as part of a team that delivered under pressure.
Jonny Wilkinson the Fly Half
A fly half shapes the team’s strategy on the field so the player’s game management skills and ability to identify and exploit their opponents’ weaknesses are key to success. They must be leaders and decision makers if a team is to function. The have a pivotal role in distribution so they must be able to make that pass or find the space with that kick under intense pressure.
Head Coach Clive Woodward saw all these skills in Wilkinson which is why he built his England side around the player’s abilities in the build up to the 2003 tournament. He knew that Wilkinson had the skills and strengths to deliver at the very highest level when it mattered.
In addition to his duties as fly half, Wilkinson also kicked for his country. His consistency from the tee helped keep the scoreboard ticking over in games and helped him accumulate a career total that saw him compete with Dan Carter for the most points scored at International level.
The No 10 channel can be viewed as a weakness in a team’s defence but Wilkinson’s opponents quickly learned that this was not the case when he was on the field. His intensity in defence often meant he paid for his courage in contact with injuries. Persistent neck and shoulder issues would rob him of time on the field for club and country but he would use his focus and determination to come back stronger every time.
— Sky Sports Rugby (@SkySportsRugby) August 12, 2015
Jonny Wilkinson Statistics
Jonny Wilkinson is my Royall Lyme fly half not because of one isolated action, however impactful that score was on the final outcome. He made 29 drop goals in his Test career of which that last minute extra time Rugby World Cup winning drop goal was just one.
On the way to the English victory in 2003 he scored 10 conversions, 23 penalties, and 8 drop goals, amassing 113 points in six games and topping the scoring table for the tournament.
Wilkinson appeared in four RWC in all – 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011. His first (and only try) came against France in 1999 but he would score 277 points in his 19 appearances. He is the only player to score in two finals (2003 and 2007).
Universally admired by team mates and opponents, Jonny Wilkinson is a player whose contribution to the game should be measured in more than statistics. As impressive as his numbers are, it was the way in which he approached every aspect of his game which drew praise and recognition from his peers. To many he was the ‘ultimate professional’.
— The42.ie Rugby (@rugby_ie) July 2, 2015
One to Watch – Beauden Barrett
The Hurricanes fly half comes into RWC 2015 uncertain of a starting place. The No 10 jersey is the most hotly contested shirt in an All Black team that some consider the best generation of players to ever play the game. He is up against the Crusaders Dan Carter and Colin Slade, and his opponent in the Super Rugby Final Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders.
Since his debut for the All Blacks against Ireland in 2012, Barrett has come off the bench to good effect, first as a full back and more recently as fly half. His 28 caps have seen him amass 119 points so far with his debut try against France winning IRPA Try of the Year. He has grown into the pivotal role for both his team and his country and the Taranaki man is building a strong case for selection.
While the debate of who should wear the 10 for New Zealand rumbles on, RWC history shows that it was the fourth choice fly half that took the kick in the 2011 final for victorious New Zealand side so every player can make their contribution.
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Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com