Q&A: ER 2015 Ambassador Jonny Wilkinson
Jonny Wilkinson will forever be associated with one of rugby’s most dramatic moments: the last-minute drop goal in Sydney that saw England win Rugby World Cup 2003. A veteran of four Rugby World Cups, he retired from international rugby after last year’s tournament in New Zealand, but continues to play club rugby at the highest level, for Toulon in France. But as he tells us here, he is still very much involved with international rugby, thanks to his role as an England Rugby 2015 Ambassador ... one he is very proud of.
How did the ambassador role come about?
It came totally out of the blue – it wasn’t something I was expecting. As soon as I was approached by the RFU board, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I’ve given my life to rugby, so supporting the Game and trying to ensure we have the best tournament we can in 2015 is a total no-brainer.
Were you flattered to be asked?
Definitely, it’s a real pleasure. It’s not something you take lightly. I realise we were all asked because of what we’ve achieved in the Game, but in my eyes, being an ambassador is about how you behave now. There is a lot of excitement in England about hosting a Rugby World Cup, and it’s up to us as ambassadors to ensure that’s the message we give to the rest of the world. I’m able to do that in France, where I play my club rugby.
You’ve played in Rugby World Cups, how has this involvement differed so far?
It’s not as different as you might think. The one key difference is that you don’t get your studs in the turf on the pitch. But I always feel it’s very important to be aware that you’re promoting the Game while you’re playing. How you act and behave does make a difference. When you’re on the field internationally, you do have a more immediate power. But now that I’m retired from the international Game it means I have a bit more time to move around and get the message across.
How important do you think RWC 2015’s legacy is?
It’s vital that the tournament leaves something behind. Any World Cup has to leave the host country in a better state than it was beforehand. That’s not as simple as it sounds, as that host country has to go through a huge amount of work in preparing for a tournament – and that work can’t just suddenly stop. The responsibility for that also falls on the players. They have to understand that a lot of people have worked hard to give them the opportunity to express their talents and interact with the people around them.
One of the great things about NZ was that we got to meet so many people that were doing so many good things around the country. You can’t dismiss the effect those meetings have on the individual. It’s not the big things that count; it’s the little things that all add up one by one.
What lessons do you think were learned from New Zealand?
There are always issues about the playing schedules – why some teams play mid-week games and others don’t – about hotel space, about giving players the right experience, about giving people the right access to the stadiums, about giving areas of the country access to all the teams without asking teams to travel too much ... it’s all these things that will help us create a great World Cup.
What excites you about RWC 2015?
Strangely, it’s the fact I won’t be playing! It means I’ll be able to experience that whole buzz from the outside. When you’re a player, the buzz is confined to what’s happening with your team, but I remember being a kid during RWC 1991 in England and there was so much going on. Rugby becomes your life for those six weeks.
How would you sell the idea of a Rugby World Cup to non-rugby fans?
It’s just going to be a great show. It has everything – and you know you will never get two games which are the same. There are so many different countries there to learn from, and with the underdogs up against the big teams, there is the constant threat of upsets. There is also the value system of it all, which is a great opportunity for young kids to see men going out and fight for each other and give everything, while still respecting and admiring the opposition. These kind of things are what make rugby great – they are what I grew up with, and what I hope to see continue long into the future.