Jonny Wilkinson on England's nightclub controversy: We won't let this ruin our World Cup
Jonny Wilkinson was nowhere near the Altitude Bar, in Queenstown, last Sunday night. Which will surprise no-one familiar with the obsessive nature of the man who has scored more points in the Rugby World Cup than any other player.
While some of his England team-mates were pictured on the bar's grainy CCTV footage behaving in a way that brought opprobrium from certain quarters, Wilkinson was following the advice given to him years ago by Steve Black, his former fitness advisor and friend at Newcastle.
'Blackie told me to imagine living life with a camera following me 24 hours a day,' said Wilkinson, in a break from preparations for England's Pool B clash with Georgia.
'At the end of each day you've got to be willing to sign for what has been seen by that camera. Just because no one's there or you don't fancy it, that's not good enough. You've got to give your best every time it's asked of you.'
Wilkinson would have had the 24-hour camera in his mind at 7am last Sunday when - the morning after his five missed penalties in England's disappointing display in their victory over Argentina - he was out on the training ground bright and early to begin the process of getting his kicking technique back into its meticulous groove.
He would have had it in his mind again the next morning when, at an equally uncivilised hour and on a day off for the England squad, he was putting in yet more practice while some of his colleagues may well have been sleeping off the effects of their ill-fated visit to dwarf night at the Altitude.
Wilkinson makes the case that the coverage given to the outing to the Altitude Bar could be a galvanising force for England's World Cup campaign here in New Zealand.
'It's massively motivational for everyone in the team. We are more together than ever,' said Wilkinson.
'We understand that whatever has happened has happened and there are huge elements who try to drive into the squad to separate us and to try to make things harder.
'We can't afford ourselves to be seen in that way just because someone says or writes some things. The guys refuse to do that.
'We are tighter than ever; respect for each other is probably tighter than ever; the understanding of what we've put into this and how much it means is probably tighter than ever. And the guys are focusing even more intensely on things to come.'
Wilkinson, always a fierce protector of his privacy, acknowledges the responsibilities that go with life in the public eye.
'We understand we are in a very privileged position and that a very fortunate lifestyle comes from it,' he said. 'It's not so much the price you pay as something you need to consider.
'For me it has always been a balance I've struck. It has always been about the battle inside and dealing with the obsessional side to get to the end result, as opposed to doing things I want to do in life.
'The battle to find the right balance continues every day and changes with every mood, every time you wake up in the morning, everything you read, everything you do, things people say they've heard about you or whatever. You deal with it and you move on.
'It's an interesting life and one that at the end of it I'll be hugely glad I had the opportunity to learn from it. But it's not always easy.
'When it has been something that someone's written about you or said about you, it's difficult because you're human and it has an impact on you.'
Wilkinson intends no criticism of team-mates. But for the 32-year-old hero of England's 2003 World Cup triumph, the quest for perfection is of primary importance - hence his crack-of-dawn training session before opting for a visit to a farm rather than the more macho bungee jumping favoured by some of the squad.
'We had a good day planned for Monday, doing something different away from the game, which was great,' he said. 'But personally I needed to do a bit of a session, kick some balls around and do some running and fitness as well.
'I was up just before seven so I could fit it in. Later in the day we went to a ranch, which was fabulous. It involved a couple of helicopter journeys, checking out the wilderness, really.
'To be fair, my obsessive streak got me into that but I wasn't the only one training that early. Mark Cueto and Lewis Moody were there, too, so I wasn't on my own.'
Wilkinson is the England rugby player who, arguably, has suffered most from the fame game; the one who was guaranteed to be mobbed everywhere he went in the glow of the 2003 triumph. Five years after kicking the most famous drop-goal in English rugby history, Wilkinson moved to the south of France to play for Toulon.
So, did the problems of the fame game help make his mind up about a move out of the county?
'It wasn't a decision to get out of the limelight,' he said. 'If it had been, then going to Toulon was not a great idea. But for me it was getting out of the scrutiny of people saying "you're no longer as good as this or you're no longer as good as him". That doesn't exist in France. It's about playing for your team.
'When I go out now to a restaurant to have a meal, sometimes I don't get a chance to think about anything else. You have people around you who want to talk to you about rugby, remind you about it.
'Like the game against Argentina, for example. The kicks that went awry. Have I had an opportunity to get away from that this week? Probably. But even when we went to the ranch you could see the guys wanted to talk to you about it.
'You work very hard to find your time. It's a responsibility you have to yourself to find it. It's part of your responsibility to find external circumstances that work. It has become, sadly to a degree, in my room with things like guitars, DVDs and walks around here. It's a very necessary part of life.
Since their arrival in New Zealand, England's players have been highly visible in the towns they have visited, always stopping to chat to fans, having their photographs taken and never refusing an autograph.
Wilkinson said: 'You manage it (the limelight) and you try to balance it. It's difficult because you don't want to be forced to live an existence that doesn't befit you or that you don't enjoy or that doesn't help you get better at what you do.'
Getting better at what he does has always been Wilkinson's goal. And the search for perfection will go on for as long as England are in this competition.
View the complete article at dailymail.co.uk