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England in safe hands with Wilkinson at 10
Inpho/Billy Stickland
Good Luck To You Johnny
1 January 2007, 11:06 pm
By Pat
Anybody, whether interested in sport - or more specifically rugby - or not, has to be delighted to see Johnny Wilkinson back in the England side for Saturday. In the past three years, since he guided England to their World Cup victory, the 27 year old has suffered a string of injuries that would have ended most players' careers. That he has made it back is a testimony to the courage, self-belief and dedication of a truly amazing athlete.
And those like Scotland coach Frank Hadden, who doubt the wisdom of the move might be well advised to listen to what Newcastle's fitness coach, Steve Black, has to say in Tuesday's Guardian newspaper, "Jonny is unique," says Black, ""I have been involved in a number of sports over the years and have worked with hundreds of athletes. I have never known another athlete blessed with such mental strength.

"I know people will say that he should not be starting for England having been out for so long, but Jonny is on a par with sportsmen like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus and Roger Federer - exceptional performers whose dedication is matched only by their skill.

Black, a former boxer who worked with Newcastle United, Sunderland and the Wales rugby team, studies sports psychology and has probably been closer to Wilkinson than anyone over the past three seasons as he faced and then recovered from his injuries.

And Frank Hadden's contention that 'there have to be doubts about him in his (Wilkinson's) own head', betrays a lack of understanding of the man that might just come back to bite him on the ass. If Johnny Wilkinson thought for one second that he wasn't right for this occasion he would be the first to put his hand up.

It might be recalled that one of his comeback attempts took place in Thomond Park at the start of the 2004/2005 season when Newcastle Falcons visited on a pre-season tour. On that occasion we saw a side of the man that marked him down as a little special.

After the game, the players from both sides had all left and showered. Except Wilkinson.

He was the last one left in the visitor's dressing room, delayed by a succession of visitors looking to shake his hand, have a photo taken.

His team-mates were all on the team coach waiting for him. His exit blocked by hundreds of supporters looking for a glimpse, a handshake, whatever. Wilkinson was brought out through the exit the players use when they go onto the pitch and down towards the coach that was parked at the UL Bohs end of the main stand.

He could have slipped onto the coach unseen but when he saw the throng of supporters, mainly children, he said, " That (to leave) wouldn't be fair."
He stood on the step of the coach and those who had been thronged around the exit door half way up, were joined by those who had been at the door at the far end. And Wilkinson signed everything that was put his way. Class act.

Hadden contends that Wilkinson, who has started fewer than two dozen matches for Newcastle since he last played for England, brings uncertainty.
"Jonny is unique." counters Black. " He is ready to play for England again and what a lift it will give to everyone associated with the side."

Good luck on Saturday Johnny.

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