Jonny Wilkinson: Five of his best moments in an England shirt
We pick out five of Jonny Wilkinson's best moments for England after he announced his retirement from the international game
Wilkinson makes his England bow
After becoming a fixture in the Newcastle Falcons side during the 1997-98 season – playing as an outside centre ““ Wilkinson was given the chance to don the famous white shirt of England for the first time in April 1998, aged 18 years and 314 days. He came on as a replacement for Mike Catt in a Five Nations game against Ireland at Twickenham and missed out on becoming the youngest-ever debutant by 180 days (a record set by Colin Laird in 1927). Few of the 75,000-plus crowd packed into the home of English rugby could have imagined how much of an impact he would make in years to come.
Defending the English honour
Called the greatest defensive stand-off to represent England by some, Wilkinson produced an incomparable display of desire in a Five Nations game against Scotland in February 1999. With the Scots on the brink of completing a Grand Slam, Wilkinson’s willingness to throw his body on the line with fearless, flying tackles ““ something that ultimately caused him no end of injury problems ““ was demonstrated to full effect in this narrow 24-21 victory at Twickenham. A much-acclaimed defensive display ultimately denied the visitors from picking up the honour, although the men from north of the border would go on to claim the last-ever Five Nations title, courtesy of Wales’ last-minute win over England in the final game of the tournament.
First win on Australian soil
As Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. This was certainly the case when Wilkinson made an unwelcome return to the Southern Hemisphere in June 2003. After making his first appearance in the “˜Tour of Hell’ five years earlier, the No10 looked to banish some demons. Their preparations for the Cook Cup game against Australia on June 2003 could hardly have gone better. After claiming the Six Nations title and recording back-to-back wins against New Zealand for the first time, more history would be made in Melbourne. The 25-14 triumph over the Aussies ““ a game in which Wilkinson notched two conversions and two penalties ““ meant that the record books were completely smashed to pieces as the Red Roses claimed their first-ever win on Australian territory.
That drop goal
22 November 2003. A date forever etched in the memories of English rugby fans. With a memorable year behind them, England were touted as serious contenders to win the World Cup. After disposing of Georgia, South Africa, Samoa, Uruguay, Wales and old enemies France, Clive Woodward’s troops set up a mouth-watering meeting with hosts Australia in the final. The scores were tantalisingly locked at 17-17 when Matt Dawson’s pass found the grateful grasp of Wilkinson. With just 26 seconds remaining the whole of the nation held their breath in anticipation, and the fly-half put a right boot through the ball. Despite it not being on his lethal left-foot, it arced through the posts like an egg-shaped missile and with that last-gasp intervention, England became the first Northern Hemisphere side to claim the Webb Ellis Cup and Wilkinson wrote his name into English rugby folklore.
Breaking world test points record
Intent on making even more history, the Frimley born fly-half reached yet another milestone in March 2008. Wilkinson surpassed Neil Jenkins’ benchmark of 1090 points with a penalty in a Six Nations clash with Scotland. He would also go on to become the highest points scorer in both the Six Nations and World Cup competitions, with tallies of 526 and 277 ““ the latter being 50 points ahead of Gavin Hastings’ previous landmark. In his 91 Test caps, an incredible 67 ended in victory, and the famous fly-half scored an unbelievable 1,246 points to leave him just four behind New Zealand’s Dan Carter’s historic total.