Wilkinson to make a super coach - Hayman
The former All Black is looking forward to squaring off against Munster’s Paul O’Connell in Marseilles on Sunday
Toulon’s Jonny Wilkinson is set to retire and join the club’s backroom staff at the end of the season. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
England World Cup winner Wilkinson is primed to retire this summer after 17 years of top-level rugby, and could move straight into Toulon’s backroom staff as kicking coach.
Former All Blacks tighthead Hayman admitted he was blown away by Wilkinson’s unrivalled work ethic when he joined the decorated fly-half at Newcastle Falcons in December 2007.
Hayman reunited with Wilkinson at Toulon in 2010, a year after England’s two-time World Cup finalist had swapped Tyneside for the French Riviera.
Hayman believes the world stage will be all the poorer without pinpoint goal-kicker Wilkinson, but backed the 34-year-old to transfer seamlessly into coaching.
“But it’s not until you actually meet the guy that you truly understand just how much of an impact he has had on the game. His attitude towards his training, how he sets such a great example for what a professional should be; he will be a big loss to the game, from a playing perspective, if he does retire this year.
“But with his passion for the game, I’m sure he will decide to stay involved in some way or another. Somewhere down the track I think he’d make a great coach.
“It’s something that he does naturally, when we were in Newcastle and here in Toulon, he has always spent time with guys after training, giving guys pointers on their kicking or their passing game, or even just little skills drills that will help them on the field.
“So he does all that stuff naturally already, so it would seem like a natural progression for me to see him move into coaching. It’s hard when a player leaves the game, maybe they might want a bit of time to themselves, to collect their thoughts.
“But even if he does take a break, I would think he would make the decision to go down that path, and I’m sure he will make a great coach.”
Wilkinson has recovered from hamstring trouble in time to line up against Rob Penney’s Munster at the Stade Velodrome, with Hayman admitting his presence is just as vital off the field as on it.
“Like a lot of people I’d never seen someone dedicate so much of themselves to their sport when I arrived in Newcastle, and that’s coming from New Zealand and being involved with the All Blacks for a long time,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people who invest a lot of time as you can imagine in New Zealand, but Jonny’s an exceptional character in that regard, that he’s so dedicated to the sport.
“And I guess the results that he’s achieved through his dedication speak for themselves, the accuracy in his kicking, the level of his skills, they are always top-notch.
“It was quite interesting to see a player with that dedication to getting better and always improving. I think even now, that Jonny’s near the end of his career, he still has that same mentality and that same mindset.
“So I don’t think that all the players are getting long in the tooth can say that, that’s for sure. Jonny has been a key guy in Toulon’s success, no doubt about it; along with the likes of Joe Van Niekerk, their influence is contagious.”
Munster talisman Paul O’Connell’s driving maul acumen proved a focal point of Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations title charge. Hayman admitted Toulon are acutely aware of Munster’s line-out drive power, hailing the Thomond Park men for pushing the laws to their limits.
“I faced him on the Lions tour to New Zealand, but not too much in the club game,” said Hayman. “He’s a seasoned campaigner, and certainly knows how to lead a pack.
“I think everything that works is probably right on the borderline in rugby these days and that’s fair enough. All you can do is identify threats and try to stop them; you don’t worry too much about the intricacies if you can find a way to combat opposition strengths.”