With any other kicker, you’d put it down to escaping blame; with le Jonny, the Mole accepts it as an absolute fact.
Wilkinson has immense stature in the game, but more pointedly is widely regarded as one of the most self-critical and honest players in rugby. This is a guy who has been to the top of the mountain, who has come through one of the worst runs of injury I’ve ever heard about in professional sports and has reinvented himself twice – from the wunderkind of English rugby in the early part of the last decade to the miracle-working Comeback Kid of 2007 to le Jonny, the emigré whom the fans of Toulon have embraced with open arms. He has done it all.
He’s no spoofer, and he’s extremely circumspect when it comes to speaking about his performances. Furthermore, few would argue that he is one of the greatest kickers in the history of rugby – and not just the pro era. So it’s revelatory to hear him speak out so strongly:
“Again and again I’m hitting the same kick every time but it’s non-match ball straight through the middle, match ball to the right.
“The problem is that when you feel like you’re smashing it and the feedback is telling you that everything is great, yet the ball is swinging both ways and missing one way and then the other, you’re left with a very difficult situation. From then on it’s a joke.
“The organisers claim that all the balls are the same, but they’re not. If they were they wouldn’t be doing this.”
Wilkinson is an expert. You could make an entirely believable claim that he’s the pre-eminent rugby-ball kicker in the world … when was the last time Dave Allred knocked one over the sticks in front of 70,000 people? When an acknowledged expert has a strong opinion on something, the people he’s criticizing would do well to clean out the old ear trumpets and listen up. In the Mole’s eyes, if Wilko says the ball is a dud, it’s a dud.