Weekend Interview: Rugby’s great code-breaker and World Cup final hero Jason Robinson still revered

Jason Robinson celebrates his try for England against Australia during the Rugby World Cup Final at the Telstra Stadium, Sydney (Picture: David Davies)
Jason Robinson celebrates his try for England against Australia during the Rugby World Cup Final at the Telstra Stadium, Sydney (Picture: David Davies)
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NO British player has ever crossed from rugby league to rugby union and gained as much respect as Jason Robinson.

Even the biggest naysayer regarding the merits of the 13-man code accepts he not only mastered the complex switch to union but established himself as one of its greatest players.

It is truly difficult to achieve that level of acclaim and veneration yet the man nicknamed Billy Whizz is revered just as much at Twickenham as he is in Wigan where his dazzling wing play first saw him capture the imagination.

Yorkshireman Robinson will be back at Twickenham today to watch the England side he represented on 51 occasions, and with such aplomb, take on Australia once more.

Fittingly, the final Quilter International between these old foes comes at the end of a week where the Red Rose marked the 15th anniversary of their epic World Cup final win over the Wallabies in Sydney.

Before Jonny Wilkinson’s famous extra-time denouement, Robinson, of course, was a try-scorer that glorious night.

Jason Robinson as an ambassador for Fusion100

Jason Robinson as an ambassador for Fusion100

It is no surprise he has been pressed for his recollections in recent days – 2003 remains England’s solitary success at the top table – but what does the 44-year-old from Leeds make of the current side, barely 10 months out from the start of the next World Cup in Japan?

Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, former Sale Sharks star Robinson said: “The important thing now is just to finish off this autumn with a win against Australia.

“Coming into these autumn internationals we were in poor form but we’ve beaten South Africa, put in a great performance against New Zealand – even though we lost it was our best display by a country mile – and defeated Japan, although we probably didn’t give them the respect they deserve.

“We’re in, then, a better place than most people thought we would be but we still have work to do; Ireland have just beaten world champions New Zealand again and they are doing things consistently better than we are.

If you look back, we did have high-profile, exciting names when I played and I want rugby league to be able to attract them.

Jason Robinson

“But it’s not about peaking now – we have to peak at the World Cup. Beating Australia on Saturday will give us the confidence to build further towards that.

“We have to be better. Sometimes we are quite reliant on Owen Farrell. We need other people to take command and show more leadership.”

Farrell, the ruthless, world-class fly-half who has so many similarities with the aforementioned Wilkinson, is an interesting one. Robinson, understandably, sees resemblances with someone else.

“He is a terrific player and he just reminds me of his dad,” he said, referring to Andy Farrell, who played alongside Robinson not only for eight years during some trophy-hoarding times at Wigan but also, briefly, too, for England in 2007 after making his own cross-code switch to union. “It’s with how he plays; Owen’s mentality, his kicking consistency, his attitude in defence and just his mindset.

England's Jason Robinson (centre) heads the celebrations with team-mates after beating Australia in the Rugby World Cup final at the Telstra Stadium, Sydney (Picture: David Davies)

England's Jason Robinson (centre) heads the celebrations with team-mates after beating Australia in the Rugby World Cup final at the Telstra Stadium, Sydney (Picture: David Davies)

“He’s got it all and continually proves his worth in an England shirt. He is our go-to man.

“I do remember him as a little kid at Wigan, about up to his dad’s knees, on the side of the pitch, kicking the ball back and forth. It’s amazing to see him come on the way he has and I know it’s down to a lot of hard work. And the same genes!”

Farrell Senior is now Ireland’s defence coach having served the same role with England under Stuart Lancaster before Eddie Jones’ arrival as head coach.

It would be fascinating to see Farrell Junior – still only 27 – one day perhaps go the other way and follow in his footsteps by playing rugby league for his hometown Wigan. He did play the sport as a youngster, and was only introduced to union aged around 13 when his dad made his high-profile move to Saracens.

With rugby league having introduced a ‘marquee signing’ ruling to help compete with union and the NRL’s higher salary cap, it is easy to see why the British Lion could potentially eventually contemplate the idea.

Robinson offered: “I played in both codes at the highest level.

England's Jason Robinson crosses the tryline for his team's only try of the triumphant Rugby World Cup final at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney Saturday, Nov. 22, 2003. (AP Photo/Adam Butler)

England's Jason Robinson crosses the tryline for his team's only try of the triumphant Rugby World Cup final at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney Saturday, Nov. 22, 2003. (AP Photo/Adam Butler)

“I enjoyed both and don’t have a preference but there’s other sides to it all. Looking beyond, when his career finishes, the opportunities for Owen in union are considerably different to what he’d get playing league.

“Yes, there could be a romantic idea of Owen going to Wigan and playing under Shaun Edwards, bringing back the glory years there together.

“And the more quality players Super League can get - the more marquee signings - the better it will be for the competition.

“If you look back, we did have high-profile, exciting names when I played and I want rugby league to be able to attract them.

“I’m sure when Owen’s contract is up at Saracens – if it ever gets to that stage – there’ll be lots of offers from union, like France for instance, and league.

“But the reality for him is where does he see his career for the foreseeable future?

“You never know what might happen – I never thought I’d get to union at the age of 26 but the opportunity came and I never looked back. The opportunities for him are really in union but every player has to make his own mind up.”

The legendary Edwards, meanwhile, is a third member of that stellar Wigan side who went on to make his own mark in union, albeit as a coach rather than a player.

After next year’s World Cup as Wales defence coach, he will return to his beloved Wigan for the first time in nearly a quarter-of-a-century to become their head coach for 2020.

“I was very surprised,” said Robinson, about a decision that was announced in August.

“Only because he has carved out such a reputation in union that has been second to none.

“Given what he did with Wasps and then Wales and the Lions, I was a bit baffled why he had not been head-hunted by England.

“It’d have made more sense for me for him to do the defence coach role now rather than bringing in (Kiwi John) Mitchell. I was surprised he wasn’t.

“It’s a massive challenge at Wigan. Not that Shaun doesn’t like a challenge; he’s comfortable at the moment and sometimes you need a change to get the juices going again.

“Wigan finished well this season and won the Grand Final again but there’s a lot of changes there with players and coaches.

“There’s a lot of work to do and it takes someone pretty special to be able to do that. Now he’s been in union so long he’s been able to command more of the headlines. It should bring a lot more interest to the game.”

And the wondrous Robinson knows all about creating interest.

Jason Robsinson is an ambassador for Fuzion100, proud to be the Official Rehydration Partner of England Rugby