For a man known for throwing his body almost recklessly into tackles, Jonny Wilkinson caused a surprise by admitting he is scared about the future following retirement.
The curtain came down on Wilkinson’s remarkable career on Saturday night as he and Toulon won the French Top 14 title with an 18-10 victory over title-holders Castres at the Stade de France in Paris.
Wilkinson’s own role in the final was that of match-winner, scoring four penalties and the almost ubiquitous drop goal, just before half-time, with his right foot, to give Toulon the lead for the first time in the match — they never looked back.
His last two matches in the paid ranks ended with two trophies — last week Toulon beat Saracens to win the European Cup — to add to his previous haul of a World Cup, four Six Nations championships, another European Cup and an English Premiership crown way back in 1998 with Newcastle Falcons.
But now that it was all over, Wilkinson admitted he is unsure about the unknown.
“It’s tough because part of you is so desperate to jump up and down, to run around and just shout because it’s such a great day, but there’s something holding me back,” he said.
“It’s not deliberate, in a way I’m not thinking ‘sit back and just take it easy’, I’m not.
“It’s wondering what the hell I’m going to do, it’s that it’s a scary time. It happens to everyone and everyone needs to understand your time runs out.”
When Wilkinson’s time ran out it did so in glorious fashion, although it wasn’t the same case when his international career with England ended with an underwhelming quarter-final defeat to France in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“We don’t all get a chance to hit out on a good moment: the England thing didn’t finish quite the way I wanted it to but this one has,” added the fly-half.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to cut your losses and say ‘I’m a lucky, lucky man, I’m lucky to have been involved with this team, lucky to have been involved with Toulon’.
“It’s such a journey that you can’t turn your nose up at it in any way, I’m such a privileged person, I’m very honoured.
“I need to find a place for it and find my place in life after rugby.”
Although it was his drop goal that handed England their World Cup victory over Australia in Australia in 2003, and he won the Six Nations four times, Wilkinson’s club career took something of a major trophy hiatus between his debut season as a professional and Toulon’s European Cup success last year — 15 years later.
And Wilkinson admitted there were times when he thought he might never add to that English champions medal.
“Of course, it’s exactly that that went through my head throughout my career,” he said.
“All the big matches, the games you had to win to advance, we always think of negative things, it’s human. It’s part of human nature to think about what will happen if this or that happens, and often it’s negative.
“But I think the solution is the whole team because 15, 23, 30 players together has a much bigger effect than an individual.”
It could have ended so differently for Wilkinson who almost quit in the previous two summers.
Although it may seem strange, Wilkinson had to deal with his own demons the last couple of years when even he doubted his own ability.
“In this moment I thought a lot about the end of my career because I asked if I was still able to do what was necessary to help this team advance and to help the others.
“And after a lot of discussions and thoughts I decided to continue but I’d almost resigned myself to the fact that that was it, I didn’t feel as good as before and I’d almost accepted it.”
Luckily for him and Toulon, Wilkinson gave it one last try.
“It’s a dream,” said Wilkinson.