In rugby terms, the ultimate dream for any aspiring player would surely be kicking that coveted goal to secure your team a clutch win.
For Jonny Wilkinson, however, kicking England to the World Cup victory in 2003 brought as much angst as it brought happiness.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Wilkinson has opened up about the demons he faced after that World Cup.
“When I was part of the World Cup-winning team I had never felt so empty as I did afterwards,” Wilkinson has revealed.
“I walked off after the 2003 World Cup thinking I knew how it works and suddenly found myself hating rugby, thinking “Everyone is against me, there’s so much pressure.”
Wilkinson had achieved what every young rugby player had set out to do from the day they picked up the ball – and he was only 24.
With the World Cup success came the weight of expectations – expectations that would be difficult for anyone to deal with, let along a young man who was suddenly championed as one of the best players in the world.
In professional rugby, it’s so easy to go from being the hero one moment to being the villain the next. When your highs are as magnificent as winning a World Cup, the lows could be potentially devastating.
This isn’t the first time that Wilkinson has commented on his struggles in professional rugby. Last year, Wilkinson spoke to the Express and revealed the seriousness of the issues he faced.
“I had times when I’d be speaking to my family before England games from the team hotel where I was inches away from going to tell the coach I couldn’t play. Make up an excuse not to. That was the state I was in. It was pure panic. Chaos.” Wilkinson said at the time.
After the 2003 season, Wilkinson struggled with persistent injuries which limited his game time for the national team. It wasn’t until three and a half years later that the flyhalf finally suited up for England once more.
For Wilkinson, not knowing what came next – both in life and on the pitch – caused plenty of dread: “When I was playing I feared the hell out of the unknown.”
In a professional career spanning 17 years, Wilkinson did his best to avoid the unknown in the club scene, representing only two clubs: the Newcastle Falcon for more than a decade, and then five years with Toulon in France.
It’s now been almost five years since the former English and Lions representative last suited up for competitive football, but it appears that he’s adjusted to life after rugby far better than he adjusted to life after winning the World Cup.
“My life is full of the unknown now, and it’s exciting.”
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