From an English viewpoint the most iconic moment of rugby was a perfectly executed drop goal that occurred after 100 minutes of action in the Telstra Dome in Sydney over a decade ago. It was the culmination of years of preparation, work and sacrifice and was the denouement of the ultimate team performance. The 'Class of 2003' and their tournament victory remains the benchmark and the man at the heart of that side remains one of the most well respected sporting icons of our generation. The term 'the ultimate professional' does not do Jonny Wilkinson justice, rugby runs through his veins and his opinion and words are unanimously respected by all. The 100 Days To Go Event at Twickenham Stadium afforded a great opportunity to speak with the man himself and understand his perspective on all manner of things regarding England and the forthcoming tournament.
Pressure is a word that we have been discussing for a long time and from the outside we have felt things turn up a notch already this year however Jonny highlighted that there is much more to come for this England squad;
"It [the intensity] just jumps to another level and it is quite surprising because you think that you have seen it all, you've played away in New Zealand, you've played at home in front of a full stadium at Twickenham, you've played in Grand Slam Deciders and you've done all of this stuff and you think 'I've pretty much got a grip on International Rugby' and then you turn up at a World Cup."
The question lingers regarding how you prepare for that marked increase, it is something that the England management will have asked themselves a long time ago and continue to do so. The fact of the matter is that all of the preparation in the world won't quite prepare this Class of 2015 for the intensity of what is to come in a few months time;
"There is something incredibly powerful about the natural progression of this England squad, guys, like George Ford and Owen Farrell, are learning their lessons when they need them and in a way that comes naturally to them. I do feel that they'll walk in at some point and think 'geez what the hell is going on' and they'll get together and think 'this is crazy', but they need to feel that and feel that shock and realise that it is do or die. I'm sure that I would be shocked as well."
England have trained at Pennyhill Park for a number of years and it is there that Jonny also trains as the hotel is close to the house that he is currently renting. This has afforded him contact time with the current squad and provides him with the ability to deliver an open and accurate assessment on them. At this moment in time many are questioning the issue of culture due to the recent misdemeanours that have rocked the boat however this isn't what Jonny see's from his dealings with the squad;
"I have spoken to a few of the guys and I do feel that mental and emotional investment, the fact that they do care huge amount about what is happening. When I speak to these guys, they care a hell of a lot about what they are doing and that is all what matters now. It is about going on that field and saying have we cared enough up to now? Have we cared enough throughout our preparation? Do we want this more than the other guys? Are we willing to give a bit more? If they aren't willing to ask these questions then it won't make a difference if you lose two players, three players or none."
Jonny made England's 10 shirt iconic and since his retirement no-one has take the jersey to the same level... yet. In 2015 we have two extremely talented fly halves that will be going head to head over the coming months and like the rest of us he is looking forward to the battle;
'Yeah it is exciting isn't it?! It is great and what a brilliant way to finish the season as well with them squaring off. They are slightly different players, Owen has got that kind of sturdiness that brings confidence of the boys around him and so on but George has got those subtle touches that really show that he is very, very aware of how to manipulate situations. You see him [George] with the ball in attack and his tactical kicking and his ability. The guys are also both starting to get down the path of managing games. I don't know whether it is a horses for courses affair for the RWC, but I think they are both going to feature maybe there is going to come time when you are going to have to pick one over the other and it may come down to which team they play against.'
The key question was did Jonny see merit in blending the two at 10 and 12;
'I've always been an advocate of that kind of thing because I've enjoyed some of my best rugby playing alongside guys like Mike Catt, Paul Grayson, Matt Giteau. For a Number 10 you just can't underestimate the power of guys with second set of eyes helping you make decisions, because making decisions on the field is all about the information that you can get in at the time. Number 10s have so little time because you are literally looking at where the ball is coming from, you've had a brief chance to have a glimpse on your way over there and you make your decision. However now you have got a guy who is a bit further out, who has time to look ahead, look to the sides, look to the corners and say this is on as well. When you get that suddenly you start doing what you are told and people start saying that you are playing the best rugby of your life when you want to turn around a say that is the guy that you should be thanking.'
A World Cup without Jonny Wilkinson is a new thing and something we'll have to get used to and after years of investment in the game my final question to Jonny was to understand what is it going to be like viewing from the outside in 2015;
"I'm amazed, it does feel different because I miss this [media] a little bit, I never thought I'd say it. It is very, very strange because I haven't missed it until now when we are talking about a World Cup. I'm so used to being in this environment and you did switch the autopilot on a little bit, I'm not doing so now believe me, but before you did a little bit because you are thinking I just want to get back there [on the pitch] because the pressure is on. However now I realise why this happens, because you see how much has gone into this. I used to go on holiday for a few weeks and be totally relaxed not realising that back here people were talking about it and were building up to it. I am looking forward to it, it is difficult to not be involved but now to realise that we won one, got to a Final in another and that I took part in four, was incredible. Five was never in the picture for me but to be part of this one in this way is nice."
This Autumn we will hear more from the man that has featured so prominently in the history of our game for he will reunite with some fellow World Cup winners as part of ITV's team. Right now Jonny is heading around the country with O2 on their O2 Touch tour and inspiring every single person that meets him for the ultimate professional is also a true English gentleman.