Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Iceman Jonny Is Human after All; Tuesday Commentary

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Iceman Jonny Is Human after All; Tuesday Commentary

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Gilder

SUNDAY, October 14, 4am, Paris. Jonny Wilkinson wasn't feeling well. An upset stomach, an aching head, insomnia. It felt, he told his team-mates later that morning, like a bad hangover.

Such symptoms will be familiar to the English thousands who followed Wilkinson to France, as well as the countless others who watched his astonishing exploits from further afield.

For England's supporters, such feelings will have been alcohol-induced.

For England's main man, it was all about the nerves. Tired, delicate and his head spinning, Wilkinson abandoned his fruitless quest for sleep at around 5.30am. The 28-year-old did his best to take his mind off his fragile condition - strumming chords from Arctic Monkeys numbers on a guitar and watching DVDs. Yet the nausea endured. The distress mental as well as physical, he cut an unfortunate figure when his concerned colleagues found him later.

He might be renowned as England's Ice Man, but when the temperature rises, Wilkinson is prone to feel the heat like anyone else. "As much as people might think 'that's your job' and 'you don't look nervous', I tell you: it isn't like that," he said last night. It was an assertion that made hi achievements seem all the more impressive.

Wilkinson can appear cold, a man lacking in emotion, a sporting robot who has been programmed to succeed.

Yet his revelations that experiences such as Saturday's frenetic World Cup semi-final can take a considerable toll have proved otherwise. At times he might not seem it, but the Newcastle Falcon is human and as such, is vulnerable to the same doubts and anxieties as anyone else. That he has become an expert at disguising such frailties is as obvious as it is astounding .

"You can feel and see your shirt moving with your heartbeat," noted a player who, four years after kicking England to a dramatic World Cup win in Australia, plotted France's downfall to secure a second successive final appearance.

"You are thinking 'this could put us in the lead'. Or 'if I miss this I've stuffed up big-style'.

The suggestion that you might not think that is a joke," he explained with characteristic candour. …

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