The miracle man of sport is back. Yesterday, after an absence of 1,167 days for the treatment of 11 separate injuries, Jonny Wilkinson returned, not so much to lead England to victory over Scotland as to be England.
The result was: Wilkinson 27-Scotland 20, or if you include the other 14 English players, 42-20. It was Wilkinson's first appearance for England since that heady night in Sydney when his dramatic drop goal won the World Cup in November 2003. He marked the occasion with a scintillating performance, kicking five penalties, two conversions and a drop goal, capping his man-of-the-match display with a dramatic try at the corner flag to answer the prayers of a nation's sports followers - and those of his most recent physicians.
The talismanic fly-half looked sharp throughout the match and was heavily involved from the kick-off, almost immediately earning a bloodied lip for his troubles. In a typical display of arrogant skilfulness that bordered on the swaggering, he set the tone for a memorable triumph over Scotland with the first of his penalty goals after 11 minutes.
Wilkinson has been blighted by an extraordinary series of injuries since the World Cup victory. A catalogue of career-threatening afflictions and ailments, including serious damage to both knees, both arms, his neck, groin, appendix and most recently his kidney, have kept Wilkinson out of the England side since, many questioning whether he would ever pull on the famous white shirt again.
But after a number of false dawns, Wilkinson finally returned to an adoring Twickenham yesterday, as he lined up for an England side aiming to end a run of eight defeats in their last nine matches. By contrast, with their star player in the No 10 shirt, England's success rate before yesterday's result was 82 per cent.
Medical experts believe that Wilkinson has now finally shaken off his lengthy injury jinx, and could start approaching top form in the current Six Nations Championship, which opened with the Calcutta Cup match yesterday.
Matt Todman, one of the country's top physiotherapists, said that at just 27, Wilkinson should have his best playing years still ahead of him.
"The thing Jonny has got in his favour is his huge mental strength; he believes in himself more than anyone else, and he's matured through this," said Mr Todman. "It takes resolve to come back in the way he has. Physiologically, I can't believe he has any peculiar defect to cause all these injuries; he's just been very unlucky."
'I live for this'
Jonny Wilkinson capped his remarkable comeback by scoring a try in the corner after a passage of scintillating back play.
Although replays showed that he appeared to have been in touch, the referee awarded the try after consulting with the second official. No one could doubt him when he said after the game that playing for England is what "I live a lot of my life for".Reuse content