Wilkinson - 'The problem in my career was winning the World Cup'
October 29, 2013
Life-changing moment ... Jonny Wilkinson celebrates World Cup victory © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson has admitted that the high point of his career - winning the World Cup in 2003 - was also a burden which overshadowed much of what followed.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the defeat of Australia and that last-gasp drop goal, Wilkinson said: "I wouldn't swap it for anything in my career, but that one night changed everything.
"Life stopped being simple. I have a very unhealthy fear of being celebrated. It doesn't feel right. If I had my time again after the World Cup I would face up to it more.
"I remember walking into my house in a hat, then sending my mate out in my car wearing the same hat, so me and my brother could drive off in his car and escape out the back.
"Maybe I should have gone out there and got used to the fact my life had changed, but at the same time showing people that I hadn't. But I didn't. Instead, I hid from it and that kept the problems going. It made me feel fragile."
He said that the injuries which dogged much of his career thereafter made adjusting all the harder. "I should have turned around in 2003 and said: 'That's that done, life can't get any better, let's just enjoy it.' But I didn't and because I couldn't play, everything was related to that night. I made it a burden.
"I've thought a lot about the first half of my career, then the obvious break with all the injuries, then the second half, which includes my time now with Toulon. Things made a lot more sense in that first period. As time goes on I'm realising how precious those years were. In a way, the problem in my career was winning the World Cup."
And he admitted by the time the 2011 World Cup came around he did not have the rapport with his team-mates he had eight years earlier. "That simple connection wasn't there, and then everything you do feels like you're trying to force it. I was playing with guys who had never even seen me play rugby because I'd been injured so long. Guys didn't know how to talk to each other: 'Apparently this guy played in 2003 and I'm supposed to respect him but I've never met him'.
"I was supposed to tell these guys what to do, but I didn't know if they believed in me yet, and on the pitch I didn't know where the ball was going to go. A lot of that falls on my shoulders: I didn't find that connection either and for only the second time in my career the amount of external pressure from the media just got into my head enough to get me lost.
"I didn't know how to get on with the team, but as the central hub at No 10 you need to know all that. You can be sure as hell everyone got up in the morning and tried to make it work, but it still wasn't working."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould
Michael Cheika has succeeded in becoming the Wallabies coach under his own terms, writes Greg Growden
In the blink of an eye, a winger can go from a hero to villain. Hugh Godwin talks to Zac Guildford and David Strettle about life on the flank
Munster, No.8s, the imploding Australians, wonderful Glasgow and Lancaster's dilemma - it is Monday Maul time