Second to none
December 13, 2011
Ben Kay in training with Jonny Wilkinson prior to the 2003 World Cup final © Getty Images
With England looking towards the future and following Stuart Lancaster's declaration that he is likely to look towards the younger players, I think Jonny's probably - as he always did with his career - made the right decision to call time on his international career.
I think from a non-selfish point of view it was time that he made plans for the future and from an England point of view, it will give the likes of Owen Farrell and George Ford coming through a chance to shine. And I think Toby Flood will also benefit from not having to look over his shoulder to see whether Jonny's warming up or not.
I also believe that he probably would not have been around for the next World Cup and due to him suffering from injury throughout his career; his decision has probably prolonged his time with Toulon.
Looking back on his career, in the early 2000s Jonny was without doubt the most influential man in our side, and in a team which had some pretty influential people such as Martin Johnson and Neil Back for example. A lot of people said he wasn't the most talented fly-half in the world and that he just worked hard; but I think that's unfair. He was certainly testament to the idea you can go as far as you want if you put the effort in.
But you also have to look at that try against New Zealand where he shaped up for the drop-goal but instead tried the little chip through and dotted the ball under the posts - that showed the immense talent of the man and what he was capable of. He could perform any kick and practised them under pressure. He always took the right decision and showed immense bravery through defence. He was without doubt the best ever defending fly-half and he always backed himself under huge pressure.
The biggest case in point was the World Cup final in 2003. He had missed a couple of drop-goals during the game, but at the end of normal time when we were in our huddle having a drink and discussing things, he went off and started practising his kicking under the posts as he knew it would come down to him … and in that seminal moment he did not let anyone down.
He was an extraordinary guy on the field and also off it. He is one of the nicest people you'd meet. And he never let anything go to his head - he was always the first to praise his team-mates despite people singling him out as a one-man team. He didn't like the publicity and I think he said in his book that he didn't cope with it well but through dark days he never let on that it affected his performance which shows huge mental strength.
I have never met a man with the same work ethic as him and an example I can give you is back in 2007 when pre-World Cup we endured a brutally hard training regime with the Royal Marines before going out into Portugal for some hard warm weather training. We were absolutely flogged but were then given four or five days off. We, as a side, decided to go out and have some beers. Mike Catt and I sheepishly tried to sneak back into the hotel at about six in the morning and bumped into Jonny practising his kicking on the pitch. That showed the difference in dedication between Jonny and myself.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton
Cards, kicks, slips and scores: It's The Week in Pictures, the finest snaps from the last seven days of rugby