He battled for the World Cup – and won. He suffered terrible injuries – and overcame them. But Jonny Wilkinson's toughest fight has been with his own mindStephen Moss, The Guardian, Monday 10 May 2010
It's surprisingly difficult to interview someone who has a black eye and gashes on his nose and neck, especially when you're sitting two feet away from him on a sofa. Jonny Wilkinson, England rugby legend, hasn't been in a fight on the way to the Rosslyn Park rugby ground (we meet in a messy backroom full of balls he has to sign for some unspecified promotional purpose). He got knocked about the night before playing for his new French club Toulon against Connacht, has flown from Ireland to London to spend a day coaching competition winners for his sponsor Volvic, and is heading back to Nice this evening.
We are not going to get long together, which is frustrating because Wilkinson – England's starriest rugby player in the past decade, but also one of its most injury-prone – is just about the most cerebral, intense, self-questioning sportsman I've ever met; as complex as the choreography of his famous place-kicking routine. He looks like a Californian surfer, and there are times when he talks like one too, trying to explain his philosophy of sport and life.
I had intended a softish opening – "You must be knackered after last night's match" – but immediately, in his gentle, earnest, slightly nasal voice, he is telling me why he could never be a rugby commentator in a sporting afterlife that is now not far away. "I'd be the commentator that TV stations would want rid of straightaway – I would be so non-committal with regard to players' performances."
When I ask him to explain why, the Californian surfer-thinker (he dabbles in Buddhism and reads lots of pop philosophy) starts to emerge. "My view of perfection, which was once totally outcome-based, got me into so much trouble," he says. "I spent so much time trying to influence things that couldn't be changed. But now I've retracted it one step into intention, and that's given me the peace of mind to know I'm doing all I can do. And I am comfortable with that view of what it means to be a perfectionist."