Jonny Wilkinson: In Need of a Reboot

 

The Rugby World Cup 2011 rumor mill is in full swing today, hinting that England’s golden booted superstar Jonny Wilkinson is to be benched.

The talk is that Wilkinson will be replaced as England chief kicker and number 10 as England moves unconvincingly into the knockout rounds. This is a devastating blow not only for Wilkinson but us diehard England fans who know just how important a steady boot can be.

Most associate Jonny as England’s archangel from the 2003 Rugby World Cup when England secured the title in the dying moments off the tip of Wilkinson’s boot. But like most professional athletes Wilkinson’s career is defined by much more than that one moment in time. Just seven points shy of reaching the record of all-time highest scorer in test rugby, Wilkinson is clearly in a class above the average, someone who has proven that he can sustainably perform to reach career defining milestones such as this.

So why now is Wilkinson looking down the barrel of the bench, being replaced just when England could once again benefit from his cool, calm, golden touch?

Wilkinson is, without a doubt, off form. His percentage at this Rugby World Cup is at the bottom of the averages for kickers, not his usual top spot. When most performers are peaking Wilkinson finds himself falling off the conveyer belt and out of the team. This will surely be Wilkinson’s last RWC and his last chance to cement his name in the global Rugby community’s mind.

So what has happened to Wilkinson’s signature ‘crouch, shuffle, clasp, kick’ midas touch in this campaign?

The purists are blaming the new championship ball…

The knockers are saying Wilkinson has past his prime and should move over…

The players are blaming the stadium conditions and unusual wind currents…

The press are blaming England’s lack of discipline…

… and Wilkinson has said the blame rests with him!

So what is the truth?

Where should the blame (if any blame at all) lay? Or is it all just part of the peaks and troughs athletes expect to move through?

There is no doubt Wilkinson handles pressure and has proven time and time again he can put the boot to work at the right time under extraordinary conditions, and for this his technique has been studied and copied across the globe.

So could it really be the new aerodynamics of the match ball?

Maybe.

But any player of that caliber should be able to adapt and maneuver their skill-set to cope with the different reactions the shape may give. One or two kicking sessions would see them roll with the changes and be back on form, I don’t believe skill-set is that tenuous.

So, surely not – could it be that he is over the hill? Maybe, at 32 years old, but why now? He has been on form leading into the RWC and hasn’t suddenly aged significantly overnight!

Could the England teams reported lack of on and off field discipline be causing this disjointedness? Some England players certainly are gaining attention for approaching this RWC like a club tour of Spain and enjoying the after-game entertainment much more than the on-field battles. But Wilkinson, again over many campaigns, has proven he can rise above any in-house behaviour issues or lack of performance discipline.

So, that leaves us with Wilkinson! What is he doing differently, what has he changed or attempted to correct or has left out that has his historically reliable steely boot – misfiring?

When we disregard the other options we are left with performer error, Wilkinson just isn’t performing – as simple as that!

Unlike a lame horse this is not the time to have Wilkinson put down, replaced or moved to the bench. Now is the time to stop and re-evaluate, to look at where the stitching began to unravel, the point at which the tried and trusted was replaced with an inferior replica. This is the time to reboot the boot and bring back the successful pattern.

Wilkinson is a play-maker and a game winner – so Jonny if you are reading this (and I am sure you are ;)) it is time to go back to what was working, recognise the patterns of success you had and reinitiate them. It is time to remove yourself mentally and emotionally from the whirlwind of misses and break the unsuccessful pattern and mentally REBOOT.

This all sounds a little pie-in-the-sky but it is the basics that work, the understanding of what was done to achieve, then replicate that. Disassociate from the emotions of failure and clinically assess and reapply.

All the excuses in the world ONLY allow us to blame someone or something else and not correct the issues. If we could do it before we can do it again (as long as we are physically capable of course).

So all Jonny Wilkinson needs is a mental re-boot to bring back his successful operating system.

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