The catch, the shuffle and the drop-kick that soared between the posts with only 23 seconds of the game remaining brought joy to millions of English people and will make Jonny Wilkinson a multi-millionaire. He is expected to earn £5m a year from sponsorship deals and endorsements, thanks to a cool head, a precision kick and a lifetime of practice that began when rugby was still amateur and he was a little boy.
The club where he learned to play was packed yesterday, and the man who taught him how to kick was watching on a big screen as the ball was passed to Wilkinson yards from the Australian line. The player's mum was too nervous to watch. She was back home, shopping at Tesco's in Newcastle, when her boy won the World Cup on the other side of the globe with that last-gasp, jaw-dropping, Aussie-chilling goal. A lady in the vegetable aisle told Philippa Wilkinson that her Jonny had done what he had been training for all his life, from the days when the four-year-old used to line toilet rolls up on the lounge floor and send them over imaginary posts.
"I remember hearing him say that all the practice he put in was so that if he had a kick in the World Cup final then he wanted to be in a position where he wouldn't worry about it," said Mrs Wilkinson. Despite the rain, and the 83,000 people in the stadium, and the millions watching on television, and the seconds vanishing fast, Jonny Wilkinson did not seem to worry at all. He scored, England won the Webb Ellis Trophy, and a childhood dream was fulfilled in a way that made him to rugby what his friend David Beckham is to English football. Except Jonny has won something for his country.
"The man with the golden boot, the golden hair - everything's golden for Jonny," said the public relations expert Max Clifford after yesterday's victory. "There are very few sports where we're the best in the world, and he's so marketable. He's got a lot of humility and he's bright." He has at least as much appeal to big-money sponsors, said Mr Clifford. "David Beckham is a credit to himself but when he opens his mouth the magic goes. With Jonny Wilkinson that wouldn't happen. He would appeal to the big banks and the financial institutions and they're enormously rich."
Martin Johnson is believed to be the second highest earner in the England team, on around £600,000 a year thanks to deals with Tetleys, Qantas, Adidas and Mercedes, among others, although his commercial value will also soar as a result of becoming the first English team captain to lift a world trophy in a major sport since 1966. Like Wilkinson he has a newspaper column, but at 33 can be expected to devote much more time to writing than sport in the near future.
The 31-year-old Laurence Dallaglio worth £500,000 a year thanks to Nike and Optimum sports-wear. His earnings will also increase. Mr Clifford said the whole squad would reap the benefits: "Everybody in the team will be more valuable," he said.
Mrs Wilkinson would have agreed. "I am pleased for the whole team," she said, sounding like a mother keen to keep her son's feet on the ground. "You can't just say it's the one boy, it's the whole team."
Try telling that to the fans, or the sponsors, or the people who will back him to be BBC Sports Personality of the Year, for which voting began last night. Yesterday William Hill gave Jonny Wilkinson a 4-1 chance of being knighted in the New Year's Honours List. England coach Clive Woodward is 6-4 to be honoured in the same way.
Back in Surrey, where Wilkinson grew up, his old team mates, coaches, and friends were among 700 people gathered at Farnham Rugby Union Club, where Wilkinson learnt his trade. Among them was Matt Payne, 31, who taught a 12-year-old Wilkinson how to kick. "It is absolutely unbelievable,'' shouted Mr Payne over the noise of celebration seconds after the final whistle. "I was nearly in tears. What a way to win it. You couldn't write the script: Jonny's like rugby's Roy of the Rovers. I'm ecstatic - really, really proud. I'm not sleeping until Monday.''
At 19 Mr Payne was tasked with coaching the younger players. "Jonny was hugely talented even then,'' he said. "I was seven years older than him and kicking for the Harlequins Colts. We had a kicking competition off the right foot, and he beat me. It was only when he suggested kicking off the other foot that I realised he was left-footed. For the next half-an-hour I missed everything and this little kid slotted them all away."
Within the throng packing Farnham's club house was Paul Hodge, 47, a former neighbour: "The rugby ball used to sail over the houses and land in our garden or hit the car," he said. "Jonny spent half his youth battling my wife after his ball kept bashing into her car. That's why he is so bold - because my wife is an awesome woman.''
The Sydney rain would have made him feel at home, said Mr Hodge. "He is used to wet pitches - this has been voted the worst in Surrey. The whole club are very proud of him, but in reality he has done well despite playing for Farnham. Jonny playing for us is like Pele learning his trade in the back streets of Buenos Aires.''Reuse content