Wallabies coach Michael Cheika speaks ahead of his side’s Test against South Africa.
An incredible sequence of injuries since he drop-kicked England to victory in the 2003 World Cup final has tested Wilkinson beyond normal human endurance.
Yet he fought back to transfix the nation again by kicking the late six points which knocked France out of their own tournament last weekend. Now he is within sight of a second Cup winners’ medal if England can overcome South Africa in Paris on Saturday (1900 GMT).
Wilkinson’s devotion to becoming the best flyhalf he can has been well-chronicled.
Consider this extract from his 2004 autobiography.
“I … steer clear of fast food,” Wilkinson wrote. “In fact I have taken its avoidance to a new level.
“I refuse to go into a fast food outlet — to use the toilet even — in case anyone got the wrong idea and thought I was sneaking in a quick burger.”
During the tournament, Wilkinson has mused on his horrific lists of injuries, the price of fame and his efforts to step back and savour life a little more.
“I have got out of the obsessional kind of bubble I was stuck in, if you step back from that you get a better view of what’s going on, a little bit more control over my emotions,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.
“I say that and Friday comes round and Saturday comes round and nothing much has changed at all. But that in a way is a kind of a comfort factor in that some things will always be the way they always are.”
The last comment holds the key. A laidback Wilkinson without his old burning intensity is the last thing England need.
Wilkinson has been crucial to his team’s extraordinary revival following the 36-0 trouncing by South Africa, a game he watched from the stands while he recovered from an ankle injury.
His kicking generally has not been great and his execution not as precise as it could be. But he remains an immensely influential player whose head-on tackle on Fabien Pelous forced the big French lock to leave the field on Saturday.
One of Wilkinson’s most attractive qualities is his aversion to the cult of celebrity.
“I am very uneasy with the whole idea of a celebrity culture,” he said. “If all your existence amounts to is chasing fame for fame’s sake it is a life built on sand and is liable to come crashing around you.”
This throwback to an older British sporting culture, where success was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders or a handshake, has its own singular appeal.
The genuine modesty is not confined to Wilkinson and his team mates. Coach Brian Ashton looks exactly like the schoolteacher he once was. In the television commentary box, the 2003 captain Martin Johnson speaks as he played without fear or favour.
Whether he likes it or not, all eyes will be on Wilkinson at the Stade de France on Saturday night.
“It does not matter whether Wilkinson is brilliant as he once was so regularly, or mixed in his moods as he has been thus far in France. The shy flyhalf is the most deadly assassin that world rugby has known,” concluded former England flyhalf and present day media commentator Stuart Barnes in his newspaper column.