Rugby World Cup-winning England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has revealed that he was tempted to switch codes and play rugby league.
Wilkinson enjoyed a trophy-laden rugby union career, winning a Premiership title with Newcastle as well as two Champions Cups and a Top 14 title with Toulon.
On the international scene, he retired as England‘s all-time leading points scorer, winning four Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam, three Triple Crowns and the 2003 World Cup, earning 91 Test caps in total.
He also toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2001 and 2005. However, despite all his success, Wilkinson’s career was plagued by injuries, which stopped him from switching to rugby league.
The legendary fly-half admitted as much in his appearance on former rugby league great Rob Burrow’s ‘The Total Sport Podcast’.
“We’re both short guys who can run super fast, I reckon if we lined up together in full fitness, I’ll beat you in a length of the pitch race, no problem,” Burrow joked with Wilkinson.
He cheekily added: “Now we all know rugby league is the faster, tougher version of the sport,” before asking the England legend, “Did you ever consider switching codes and giving it a go?”
“That is hilarious, but it is so true that’s the problem, you would easily have beat me short and long distance,” Wilkinson conceded.
“But it’s mad now; I probably watch more rugby league than I do rugby union, and it’s been like that for a long time.
“I have always wondered ‘could I do it?’ I always wondered if I could adapt, and I had an opportunity.
“I was injured for so long, but I had a couple of opportunities, and they were largely thrown out to help me out, to say, look after your injuries, do you want to come and do a summer with us just a few months around the Wigan team?
“At the time, there was part of me that was like I’d love to go and find out; the only issue was had I reinjured, the rest of my [union] career was gone. The clubs who employed me would have never let that go.”
Hugely inspired by league players
Wilkinson added that he has always been inspired by league players and was eager to impress those who had switched codes during his career, singling out former team-mates Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell.
“I was hugely inspired by and spent a lot of my time trying to impress those [league] guys that came towards me, like Jason and Andy Farrell like whenever they were next to me. I was like, I’ve got to do something to like so that they respect me,” he said.
“A huge part of it was because of what the guys do; I love the fact that if you’re gonna take a ball, it’s cause you mean to score, and I do watch league now constantly.”