him in the same breath as Beckham.
The England number 10 announced his international retirement yesterday on his website.
Clive Woodward in amongst his glowing praise of his number 10 mentioned him being at the same level as Beckham and quite frankly the comparison is an insult to one of the world’s greats. While Wilkinson brought glory, dedication and unselfishness to English rugby, Beckham didn’t to the football team.
There was all those points scored, there was that last minute drop goal that won the 2003 World Cup but the overriding image is of a player no matter how battered up he was, no matter if he was coming back from yet another severe injury would still do the hard work. Widely regarded as the hardest tackling number 10 in the game – ex-England flanker Richard Hill rated him one of the hardest tacklers regardless of position – Wilkinson never thought of himself when going unto yet another crunching tackle, never held back to save himself when someone needed stopped. While Beckham ponced out of that challenge in Japan in ’02 to protect himself it cost us that game against Brazil even more than Seaman’s flapping at Ronaldinho’s free-kick.
Jonny looked perplexed during his recent travails in World Cup in New Zealand. But it wasn’t a case of him thinking about himself and what his
failures would mean to his legacy. Rather it was someone pained that he wasn’t holding up his end, wasn’t providing for the team. He thought he was letting others down. Compare that to the tears of Beckham, in 2006, as he sat on the sidelines while England meekly exited the World Cup in Germany. Tears for himself, for Brand Beckham. Tears because he could see, unfortunately wrongly, the end of him being the automatic first name on the team sheet.
Compare Wilkinson at 32 who is still playing his club rugby at the highest level with Toulon retiring from the international scene with dignity with the 36 year old Beckham who has just finished a stint somewhere not too close to the top flight of football desperately clinging to the hope of more England caps and Olympic glory.
Only problem with all this is I’ve sullied the name of Jonny Wilkinson by mentioning that great overrated show pony in the same post.
So I’ll just go back to remembering all those great tackles, all those points scored, wondering what could have been if not for all those injuries – how many games for England, how many points, no Charlie Hodgson in an England shirt – and maybe just a couple of times think back to that certain drop-goal.