IN yesterday's part one of the exclusive interview with England's 2003 rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson MBE, he and I discussed the present, this year's World Cup in France as we walked and talked around his favourite part of the island. Today, in the second part of the interview, Wilkinson talks about his injury problems since winning the World Cup, his love for Majorca and his future.
Wilkinson landed back in London with his World Cup winning team as the country's hero and the best fly-half, by far, in the world.
The public and media pressure awaiting him was potentially massive.
But, he returned from Australia nursing a neck injury and thanks to a subsequent and unhappy litany of other injuries - knee ligaments, arm, shoulder and kidney - he did not appear again for England for 1'169 days after the World Cup when he played in their Six Nations opener earlier this year against Scotland.
Just how has he battled through all that? I guess I never really had to deal with all the expected media and public pressure after the World Cup because I wasn't playing. But, I had a different pressure to deal with. Getting fit and coming back to play. I think it would have been much easier if I could have played. I would have enjoyed that kind of pressure much more than the pressure I took on with injury because the pressure of playing would have sorted itself out. Whether I was playing my best or at least the best I could, after each game I would have been able to have worked out what was going wrong and fix it. I would have had a goal, feedback and an opportunity to attack that and work toward my goal of the next World Cup - which thankfully is where I am now. As it was I never got that opportunity and the pressure I had to deal with was way out of my comfort zone. Playing rugby, I would have known what was happening, where I was going wrong and what the solutions were. Whereas I was faced with new challenges outside my comfort zone, changes to day-to-day life, not playing rugby, people being invasive. I never seemed to be alone I was constantly being photographed training, all that sort of business, he told the Bulletin. But what was even worse was trying to come back after such long gaps. If I had been able to have got a run of 20 games, say, and found my momentum, I would have been fine, but I never got that break, I kept picking up injuries and I was out again, six months, three months, ten weeks, it just went on and on. The external expectations every time I was fit to return, for once, were as high as my own. Normally I never struggle with expectations because I know those from the outside will never match my own, so it's never an added pressure, my pressure is created by me, but for once the expectations from outside seemed to be as unrealistic as my own to suggest that I was going to come back after nine, ten months out with an injury and just get on with it, go straight back in at the top. I was thinking that, but when other people started thinking that too, the pressure started to get a little tough to deal with, he revealed. It was like a stage two in my career, I literally had to start all over again, I needed to learn step by step, I needed a good run of games - but it didn't happen. I never managed to get the time to drop back into that fabulous relationship with the game which enables you to go out there, face new challenges, make mistakes and learn from them. I was making mistakes, then having to wait six to eight weeks until I was fit but only to go out to make the same mistakes again. But now, as I said, I am blessed with the ability to get up and train with the team, not on my own trying to work out what's wrong and just talk about when I would be back. It's nice now. I am one of those people that does not believe in papering over the cracks. Sometimes one has to start again at the bottom, re-build the foundations and that means the odd defeat, or more than the odd defeat, but that is all part of building up your performance, getting better and doing things right. That way you can stay at the top for as long as possible and now, after various set backs in my quest to regain peak performance, I think I've learnt the lessons I needed to learn and that I'm back in my comfort zone and ready to perform for England again, said Wilkinson.
AND Majorca played a part in Wilkinson's return to full fitness. He and his family, he has a slightly older professional rugby-playing brother Mark (known as Sparks), have been coming to Majorca almost every year since he was four and now the family own two second homes on the island. Over the past few years I started to come more often and I'm even starting to learn Spanish. I love the island completely. I know some parts appeal to certain people for others reasons to myself but I love where I am, it's close to all the main facilities - the airport - but at the same time it's tucked away, it's quite Spanish and cosmopolitan. It's very relaxed and very quiet.... I've always wondered what it would be like to come over for longer. Spend more time here. I have been coming out a bit more often - that's the only good thing about the injuries (he laughs) sometimes the best bit is the first week, or three weeks when I lacerated my kidney, and you literally can not do a thing. For me the best thing, instead of staying around a rugby environment, is to go away and that's what I did. I came out here a few times and I was amazed how mild the weather is in the winter, he said. I was out in January one year and the island was a sun-trap, I couldn't believe it, it was just stunning, especially when you think we're just two hours and a bit from London. You get four or five days free and you're off. But, having said that, sometimes I wonder what it would be like for me here without the pressure of rugby I enjoy. I am not arrogant enough to say I thrive on pressure, but for some reason I get ever so nervous about it, I have my fears like everyone else, but it's something I almost feel I can't do without. I need it to create the challenge that I love in life. The challenge of playing out there, testing yourself, learning about yourself, facing up to a really major test and getting away from that to Majorca is what makes the place so amazing for me and I wonder, if I didn't have that to break from, whether the place would be the same. The fact that this island's beautiful won't change, it's just that if I stayed here, away from rugby for too long, I'd get that itch... he said.
Injuries not only provided Wilkinson with more time to come to Majorca, they understandably provided him with time to consider his long term future. I have given my post-rugby future a lot of thought but to be honest, I've spent most of my time thinking about getting back to rugby, when's my next game. It's been tough at times, watching people playing the game yet feeling so far away from the game. But more recently I have had a bit more time to think about life after rugby. I would be kidding myself if I didn't believe or didn't understand that there's no way I could just drop off the edge of the earth as such because if I don't have that pressure, drive and a challenge I sometimes get quite mentally edgy, I start feeling I need to do something. It happens here during the summer. Even though I try to have a nice relaxing holiday, I always find myself training. I've been training this morning and I've got a load of weights in the house. I'd love to stop and admire the whole beauty of the island but I need to blow it all out for a bit, he admits. So, I think my life after rugby is going to be involved in finding that challenge and something I'm massively interested in is trying to stir the same kind of enthusiasm and excitement in other people. Helping people understand that life is about keeping fit and healthy, facing physical challenges and getting the most out of life by being mentally, physically and holistically content and I think that will form a big part of my long term future. I've always had my battles, especially in rugby, trying to be physically in shape through basic conditioning or getting back from injuries through physio, and then there's the mental battle of finding the middle point, a happy middle ground where you've got the pressure which you enjoy, you've got the self confidence and you've also got the heavy analytical side of being able to work out how well things are going, how well you are doing. I've spent so much of my life trying to work that out I think it's something that I'd like to continue with, he reveals.
In the meantime however, he has a World Cup to defend and he knows the tournament, which kicks off for England against the USA on September 8, is going to be as mentally testing as physical. The strongest or fittest team on the field on any one day isn't necessarily going to be the best and that can be seen at club and international level - that's where the mental side comes in. Physically, international sides are so close nowadays that the small difference comes down to mental conditioning and preparation. To be a professional athlete you need to have a bottom level of fitness, there's no doubt about that, but, although it may be a small percentage, come the end of the game mental strength and the ability to think under pressure can prove to be the winning margin, Wilkinson said.
The pressure on Jonny when he struck the winning drop goal in the dying seconds of extra time in the 2003 final was immense - is he going to be our hero again, I ask.
He smiles. Nice to meet you, top man....