Note to relatives of Graham Henry: do not, I repeat do not, buy him Jonny Wilkinson - Perfect 10 for Christmas. If you do, then prepare for a nasty dose of DVD and a sense-of-humour clot that will see the patient shut himself in a dark room and start screaming: "Why me? Why me?"
Never mind that by then Wilkinson could very well have single-handedly, or single-footedly, denied Henry's beloved New Zealand the Webb Ellis Cup. That would be nothing more than the icing on the cake of manure that Henry has been forced to take a bite of every day since he left these islands in ignominy last year. If it hadn't been for Wilkinson and that Lions tour, God damn them, Henry might still be in charge of Wales. Why, he could even be in charge of the All Blacks by now. Instead, he finds himself at the World Cup party as a consultant to Fiji, which is akin to scrounging an invite by offering to carry the vol-au-vents.
And this DVD would remind him just why. Released for general sale today, it tells the story of the inexorable rise of Wilkinson to becoming "the world's best player". Only it leaves out that blip in Wilkinson's statistical Taj Mahal that did so much to dispel Henry's air of infallibility. On that Lions tour of Australia two years ago, around 60 per cent of Wilkinson's shots at goal hit their target. Not a bad return for your average international goal-kicker, but for Wilkinson it was like Einstein getting 60 per cent in O-level maths. Wilkinson missed three penalties in the final Test, the Lions were beaten by six points, and Henry, their coach, was not the genius everyone thought he was.
Within a year, the Great Redeemer of Wales had seen his great redemption policy expire, and off he went to speculate on what might have been. What if Wilkinson hadn't chucked that series-defining interception to Joe Roff in the Second Test? What if Wilkinson had kicked like a metronome instead of a garden gnome?
Not that the producers of Perfect 10 should have bothered themselves with something as wholly irrelevant as the demise of a Kiwi coach. When a punter is prepared to shell out £19.99 for an hour-long feast of well-worn clips, and even more well-worn talking heads, they obviously have a fan in their grasp. Hero worship is what they're after, and this is what they're given. "Wilkinson: the best goal-kicker ever"; "Wilkinson: the best defensive fly-half ever"; "Wilkinson: the most dedicated player in the world ever". You want it, they've got someone prepared to say it, and most of it cannot be argued with.
Only what it doesn't manage - indeed, what no one has yet managed - is to get any closer to "Wilkinson: the man". Maybe that's because here is a sportsman so obsessed with his sport that there hasn't been much time or space for the "man" to develop. Not, of course, in the external sense - there are tackles here that would bring tears to the eyes of Chemical Ali - but internally.
In one of the few insights, his Merv Hughes lookalike father tells how an 18-year-old Jonny rang up home one day to ask whether he needed to take his passport to Tesco to verify a cheque. More, we cry, more! What about the time he brought back his first girlfriend? What about the time he painted his radiators lime green? Alas no, that is about it as far as the "other side" of Wilkinson goes, and the scary thing is that you do not feel like you're missing much and that you really are being told everything. It's hard not to conclude that perhaps Wilkinson's life is just that endless line of balls that he practises kicking over those posts time and time again. The gushings of the legends interviewed certainly suggested as much. Will Carling, Rob Andrew, François Pienaar, Clive Woodward even, all admit they've never seen anyone as focused in their purpose, and that simple purpose is to be the best player he can.
But at what price, and who exactly will pay in the long run? "Everyone in the world wants to be Jonny Wilkinson," says Gavin Hastings. For the next two months, maybe, Gavin. But after that? Keep it.Reuse content