Catt praises Wilkinson's legacy
December 13, 2011
Mike Catt celebrates the 2003 World Cup triumph with Jonny Wilkinson © Getty Images
Wilkinson announced his retirement from Test rugby on Monday, leaving a legacy in the number 10 jersey that is unlikely to be bettered. The 32-year-old is England's most capped fly-half with 91 appearances and second most capped player in any position, leading points scorer with 1,179 and kicked the match-winning drop goal at the 2003 World Cup final.
It is a proud roll of honour that Catt, his former international team-mate, believes will inspire Wilkinson's successors - led by Toby Flood. "Jonny has set a series of records that all players will want to surpass," he said. "People will want to beat his scoring record or number of caps.
"He now has some special milestones and will be spoken about for a very long time. There are guys around who will try to reach the level that Jonny got to. Toby Flood will take on the mantle, with Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson beneath him."
Wilkinson's numerous records - which include being the highest points scorer for the Lions and in World Cup history - were established despite a six-year period blighted by injury. The post-2003 era was marked by a succession of long-term spells in the treatment room that at times cast doubt over his future.
Catt believes the injuries were the inevitable consequence of the courage that identified Wilkinson as the hardest tackling fly-half the game has seen. "Jonny played 91 times for England, but just think how many matches he would have played if he wasn't injured," said the London Irish assistant coach. "Technically he was very good in defence, but at Test level when you've got the size of those guys running at you and when you've been tackling so hard for so long, your body will break down at some point down the line.
"His timing and strength meant he was able to put in some amazing hits. Jonny's an amazing guy to come through all those injuries yet still play the way he does. It's phenomenal and mentally he's very strong.
"He'll be sorely missed by England and the fans. He can look back on his England career and be very proud of what he achieved. His passion and desire for success really stand out for me. He wanted to be the best in everything he did.
"He wanted to be the strongest, the best defender, the best ball player. His attitude was exceptional. He's the ultimate pro and his story shows the rewards you can get when you put the work in. He's a good guy - quiet and unassuming."
Catt admires Wilkinson's ability to deliver when his team-mates need him most and expects his club Toulon to provide support as he adjusts to life without Test rugby.
"Jonny's always led from the front, whatever team he's played for. That's what Jonny's about," he said. "Teams rely on Jonny and Jonny delivers. That's what we did for England. Yes, he had fantastic players around him, but he did his job and did it exceptionally well.
"Now he will have to get used to life without international rugby. He will miss it massively, but he's so well liked in the south of France and really enjoys it there. That will help him get over the fact he will no longer be playing Test rugby."
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