Yes, it was. And there were more to come. I can still remember Newcastle coach Steve Bates saying at Kingsholm in late September 2008 after Jonny had once again been taken from the field injured, this time with a knee problem: ‘He’s sitting up there in the dressing-room. It doesn’t seem serious.’ Wilkinson didn’t play again that season.
There were many wonderful Wilkinson cameos to recall: against South Africa in Bloemfontein in 2000 when he scored all 27 points to help England beat the Springboks, 27-22, setting a new national record in a win that was the start of a run of 12 successive England victories over the southern hemisphere culminating in that World Cup triumph in Sydney, his bravery as the ‘Boks went after him at Twickenham in 2002, a master-class against Ireland earlier that year at Twickenham, his international comeback game against Scotland in 2007, on and on we could go.
Yet it’s Wilkinson’s courage, resilience, fortitude, sheer guts to come back from no matter what adversity that really sticks in the mind. On that glorious August evening in Galway, Wilkinson probably knew deep within, even as he sighed with satisfaction and signed away willingly, that fate was already out there plotting to bring him down again. Yet he always got back up. And for that, he will forever be remembered.
After the World Cup semi-final in Sydney in 2003, I was interviewing Serge Betsen, asking him about how his indiscretions had been punished by Wilkinson’s metronomic penalty-kicking boot out there. Suddenly, this toughest of Frenchmen started to break down in tears at the thought. Yes, that was what Wilko’s cold-eyed marksmanship could do to even the hardest of spirits.