Not many Englishmen can say that they have scored a try in a Rugby World Cup Final. In fact, only one can. Not many Englishmen can say they have won four successive rugby league championships, numerous Challenge Cups; but one can. That man is Jason Robinson.
Jason Robinson is highly regarded in both rugby league and rugby union worlds and his legacy will go down for ever as ‘Billy Whizz’ and the man with magnificent pace. One cannot underestimate the impact that he had on rugby union.
In 2000, Jason decided it was time to turn his back on the game he had played since he was a child and play rugby union instead: “It was now or never really. I had achieved everything I could in the rugby league world and I was desperate to try everything that I could. I spoke to Sir Clive Woodward and he sold playing for England to me. Sale were my ‘local’ side and they were languishing at the bottom of the table at the time. It would be a totally new challenge to go from a team at the top of the competition to one struggling at the bottom and one I was relishing.”
Playing for Sale, he brought a sense of excitement to the fans. I was there at his first home game for Sale. It was against Coventry in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup clash against Coventry at Heywood Road. It was clear he was still learning the code but you could tell that he had the potential to dominate his opponents in this code. From this moment on, I looked forward to every match he played in as you didn’t know what he would do with the ball and boy, didn’t he prove that!
Jason played a total of 112 games for Sale and 56 games for England and one of those games was the Rugby World Cup Final in 2003 where Jason scored a key try which helped win the game and tournament for England. Everyone remembers where they were when he scored that try and that is something that will also last in the memory of all rugby union fans. He played a significant part in bringing the World Cup to England. He describes scoring that try as the release of so much pressure on him: “It was the biggest event I have ever taken part in. The game was so close and there were so many people watching it, so of course you felt massive pressure on your shoulders.”
His last game for the Sharks was against Bath in April 2007. At this stage of the season, the Sale side were injury-hit and were tantalisingly close to relegation. With 79minutes of the game gone, Sale were behind 20-23 with 10 seconds left of normal time remaining. Jason got passed the ball and using his mesmerising pace; he beat the defenders and blitzed to the try line. Sale had secured the vital win and their first victory since January 2007. Edgeley Park erupted with cheers and it was the stuff dreams were made of. No one could believe what they witnessed that night. After scoring he tried to get his first conversion in rugby union, however the ball just drifted to the left. That night just demonstrated the impact he had on Sale Sharks, let alone rugby union.
Jason retired in 2007 and he doesn’t regret that decision at all: “I played a lot of games and I would rather have gone out on the top. I had achieved all my rugby aims.” He had a brief try at coaching with Sale Sharks but it became apparent to Jason that top flight coaching wasn’t really for him. Now, Jason coaches for HSBC at grassroots level which he loves doing.
For a man who was lightening quick, he has faded away from the rugby limelight – but he certainly won’t be forgotten.