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Jonny Wilkinson: Owen Farrell has same genius as Zinedine Zidane or Sachin Tendulkar

Owen Farrell during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Saracens
Owen Farrell is set to leave English rugby this summer to join Racing 92 in France - Bob Bradford/Getty Images

Owen Farrell possesses the same level of sporting genius as Sachin Tendulkar and Zinedine Zidane, according to his mentor Jonny Wilkinson.

Speaking to Telegraph Sport at the launch of the Global Rugby Players Foundation in London, Wilkinson discussed how the greats in all sports strike a balance between “creating what you want to achieve on the inside and it then appearing on the outside”. Wilkinson has worked with Farrell as a kicking consultant in recent years, but added that he has also shared his mental approach to the game with the Saracens No 10.

Farrell - who will captain Saracens from fly-half in the Premiership semi-final showdown with Northampton Saints - is set to leave English rugby this summer to join Racing 92. He will hope to emulate Wilkinson’s late career success in France with Toulon where he won two Heineken Cups and the Top 14.

Wilkinson said: “Performance is about achieving wholeness and balance. When you don’t know that relationship, you fight to make it happen on the outside, fearing that it’s going to go wrong and try to control it. But the beauty is the ease of coming into that space and just seeing it on the outside, it’s the genius of all sportspeople. Look at Tendulkar or Zidane - Owen has that genius. When he taps into that genius and finds that balance, magic happens. It’s the same for every player.

“It isn’t ‘I’m not enough, I have to fight’ - it’s the space of allowing, letting go, balancing out that drive which is in players who are desperate to achieve. You don’t need to motivate someone who is desperate to achieve, what you can do is help them find that balance by bringing the opposite energy and finding that wholeness. And when you do that, you just want to sit there and watch them all day.”

Wilkinson is one of 10 founders of the new Global Rugby Players Foundation, working in partnership with World Rugby and International Rugby Players to help players in retirement. Last year he reunited with his fellow Rugby World Cup winners for a 20-year reunion.

England's Will Greenwood celebrates with match winning hero Jonny Wilkinson on the final whistle of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final
Wilkinson is one of 10 founders of the new Global Rugby Players Foundation - Phil Walter/Getty Images

On dealing with retirement, Wilkinson said: “By nature you need to be competitive and yet when you come out of the game, by your own value system, you are then losing. Every conversation I’ve had with my team-mates from Newcastle, and I saw the 2003 squad recently, even if you just nod at each other it’s a nod where there is an understanding that we are all facing it. Everyone has to go through that. There are a few who have really struggled, but in fits and starts. Some will really struggle and then have a couple of good years.”

While Wilkinson acts as a kicking consultant with England and Richard Hill is currently the team manager, Wilkinson was asked whether the Rugby Football Union could make better use of the 2003 squad’s expertise and experience.

“I don’t know what the plans are and I’m not too familiar with those kinds of relationships. After rugby I have been quite keen to follow whatever passion I have elsewhere, but they involve rugby, always. I keep kicking balls, keep training, keep meeting players and wanting to work with them. But at the same time I have another relationship where I’m quite out of [rugby] as well.

“Sure enough, the value of those [2003] players – not just because they won but because they are human beings who experienced extremes, they have gone to the top and found their way from there into a new phase in their lives – the depth of what is there, and allowing a safe environment for people to share what they have, is so powerful. Everyone holds you in such a high place, ‘you’re the person who did that, life must be like this for you’, and you almost don’t want to tell them that it’s not, because is that weakness? So maybe you act it.

“Or do you stand there and go, ‘playing rugby was a great thing, but it’s not who I am’. Who I am is a constant exploration, and exploration always involves challenge. If you have the privilege to follow your passion in life, it is going to lead you straight into challenge whatever you do. People [from 2003] have been through so much and are still going through so much, and they have a beautiful voice. These are people I looked up to as father figures when I was playing. So when I see them now I have a deep respect and awe. We have all gone off in our own different directions, but there is so much value in them, definitely.”

On his podcast, ‘I Am...’, Wilkinson has spoken to a range of guests from ballet dancers to psychologists, discussing their relationships with performance and “big transformational shifts”.

On this he adds: “I had so much around me when I was playing that I was so disconnected from magic. I turned it into a logical slog and yet when I was a kid and had that ball in my hand, everything was magic. Now I’m going back to that space and finding a deeper reverence for other people, for life, my challenges in my journey but also the beauty of emotions like fear, the anxiety and frustration and all of those things, starting to move towards them instead of away.”

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