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Jonny reveals obsessions and inner demons

'Jonny: My Autobiography', Jonny Wilkinson, Hodder Headline, €15.99

SOME sports stars use their autobiographies to paint themselves in a flattering light -- not so England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.

Throughout his deeply honest book, Jonny, Wilkinson comes across as a reserved, obsessive perfectionist caught between his drive to be the best and fear of letting himself and others down. Over the 406 pages, it's clear Wilkinson is very hard on himself and makes personal demands bordering on the inhuman.

The release of Jonny has been overshadowed by the disastrous fallout from England's 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign. It's not a subject he shies away from, pondering the "naivety of people going out to the extent that they did" and questioning the lack of personal responsibility.

Wilkinson, it's made clear, has always strived for perfection, even at the expense of his own wellbeing. In the opening pages, he remembers playing mini rugby for local side Farnham. He vomits before every match because he's so fearful "about what will happen if it doesn't go well". He is just seven years of age.

His honesty throughout is unflinching and occasionally brutal. As a kid, he forgets to mention his father, known as Bilks, in an interview. Afterwards he beats himself up, crying and apologising repeatedly to his dad for being so "ungrateful". It's a telling incident -- every mistake he makes is analysed and criticised.

When he is called into the England squad at the age of 18, while most players would celebrate, Wilkinson says that he wanted to hide.

The major events of his career are detailed -- from his obsessive training regime, to his emotional torment before matches, to his injury battles.

He writes impressively about his rugby education. Tackling and running the ball are his great loves as a player and it was under the direction of Clive Woodward that he became a drop-goal expert. He's particularly good when breathlessly recounting the 2003 World Cup final where he kicked the winning points. In the aftermath of that victory, Wilkinson faced his greatest torment -- as he was plagued by injury.

The toll of training and that love of tackling caused injuries that wiped out almost three seasons. Frustration became depression as comebacks were thwarted.

Those black days make for uncomfortable reading, especially since Wilkinson is so self-critical, even when he's at his best.

For a sports biography, he doesn't dish too much dirt on fellow pros. Former players aren't so fortunate -- Jeremy Guscott, who spoke out about the "unacceptable behaviour" of England players is portrayed as intolerant.

As you'd expect from an obsessive perfectionist, Jonny can get repetitive as he details the endless kicking sessions, his discomfort in new environments and the oppressive nerves in the build-up to big matches.

But it's a fascinating glimpse into what drives one of the most dedicated rugby players of the recent era.


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