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Sports Life Stories

  • Episode: 

    7 of 8

  • Title: 

    Jason Robinson
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Tue 07 Apr 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.00pm - 11.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 15 2015 : Sat 04 Apr - Fri 10 Apr
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Monday 30 March 2015.
Episode 6 - Jason Robinson
“When I look at it and I think just how things had gone for me from a council estate in Leeds, starting sport, Hunslet Boys' Club to then playing pro club which was amazing, to then going on winning the World Cup, having tea with the Queen, MBE, OBE, being paraded around London. All those things, it’s just hard to take in that actually that’s me.” - Jason Robinson 
In the seventh episode of this new series, Rugby World Cup winner and dual-code legend Jason Robinson speaks to Mark Durden-Smith about his journey from Hunslet Boys’ Club to glory with club and country in league and union.
With contributions from his World-Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward and Wigan colleague Andy Farrell, Sports Life Stories traces Jason’s career from his tough upbringing in Leeds to scoring a try in the final in Sydney where he lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, via 15 major trophies in eight years at Wigan.
The programme also traces the highs and lows of Jason’s personal life - from not meeting his father until he was 34, to contemplating suicide after his arrest for affray, assault and criminal damage to finding God through his friend, legendary Samoan player Va’aiga Tuigamala.
Returning to his childhood home and the working men’s club where his family used to drink, Jason says he saw a lot of violence as a youngster: “I witnessed loads of things growing up, mini riots, I remember cars screeching around, handbrake turning, people picking up bricks [and] throwing them at each other."
He tried boxing at Hunslet, but it soon became apparent that his running speed meant he would be better suited to sprinting or rugby, earning him the nickname Billy Whizz. He says: “That was given to me quite a few years ago. In my amateur club, it’s from the tea ladies, [they] gave me it from the cartoon character Billy Whizz. It’s followed me all the way through and I even managed to get in the Beano comic as a character on the 2001 Lions tour. Billy Whizz is all about the speed, not the biggest player in the world, but certainly has good feet, good pace, and it’s done me alright.”
Jason signed a professional rugby league contract with Wigan at 16, joining the club during their glory years and fighting for his place in the team. He says: “You knew that if you had a poor game you may not see another one, such was the level of competition in there. Every time you were in the weights room, who could lift the most? Every time you were sprinting, who is the fastest?
“I wasn’t your Martin Offiah, watching him running it was like a gazelle. When I ran, it was just hammer and tongs, it was like I was in second gear going down the motorway.”
While he was winning trophies with the team on the pitch, off it he had taken to drinking heavily. He says: “I got into a situation where I was drinking sometimes six nights a week. Monday it was Wakefield, ten pence a pint night. Tuesday I would be over to Liverpool, Wednesday it would be Oldham. Thursday it would be Wigan. And after the game we would go out wherever.”
Andy Farrell says: “For a young kid to have what he had in such a short space of time, I suppose that was very hard to deal with. With the extra time he had, with having nobody around, made it easier for him to say yes and go out with the lads.”
But after Jason was arrested for violent offences, he says he considered committing suicide. Wigan colleague Tuigamala, who had recently signed, was concerned about him, and helped him to turn his life around by embracing Christianity. Jason says: “Had it not been for him, coming into the environment I was in and putting a different slant on it I certainly wouldn’t have the hope that I’ve got now. And hope is something that people can’t take away.”
Despite playing in the Rugby League World Cup final for England in 1995 against Australia, and appearing for the Great Britain side, in 2000 he switched codes and signed for union side Sale Sharks. He did so after discussing the move with England coach Sir Clive Woodward, who outlined his vision of winning the World Cup. Sir Clive says: “It was all very secretive to be honest, I was meeting various players in service stations, it was quite funny despite the fact it shouldn’t have been. I remember meeting him and what I was impressed by was that neither of us spoke money, neither of us mentioned a pound.”
He made his England debut in the 2001 Six Nations and that summer was selected for the British Lions tour of Australia. England won the Grand Slam in 2003 then beat Australia and New Zealand before heading Down Under for the Rugby World Cup as favourites. Having struggled in the earlier rounds, England beat Wales and France to reach the final against the hosts. In a hard-fought game, Jason scored arguably his most famous try - and celebrated by punching the ball skyward.
He says: “Lawrence [Dallaglio] made that run, gave the inside ball to Jonny [Wilkinson]. Thankfully I was on his outside and I caught his eye, and he threw the ball out to me. And I just knew of all the times, ain’t nobody can catch me here. I punched the ball and it must’ve gone so high because it went so high, it was such a release.”
As the game went into extra-time, Wilkinson kicked a drop-goal with just 20 seconds left on the clock - meaning England had won the World Cup for the first time. Jason says: “When you look at the emotion on those players’ faces, it was the reality and the relief that we have just won a World Cup. And I will never forget that. Jumping on Will Greenwood’s back. Hugging Lawrence Dallaglio. All the hard work. Everything we’ve done has been for this moment. Nothing will ever compare to winning the World Cup, and especially in the backyard of Australia.”
Jason went on to captain England in 2005, and appeared at the World Cup four years after winning it. Having retired from Sale, this was his last international tournament. He played in the team that lost the final against South Africa, despite tweaking his hamstring just before the match. He says: “I can remember hitting the bag thinking, ‘Ooh, my hamstring.’ It’s not what you want going into a World Cup Final. It was going to be my last ever game. I didn’t want to let people down and I didn’t know how long it’ll hold out for. As it happens in the second half I got smashed by the South African players at a ruck and I did my shoulder so I ended up going off.”
After a year in charge at Sale as head coach in 2009, he’s now looking forward to this year’s Rugby World Cup, and even jokingly suggests he’d like to strap his boots back on and get back out on the pitch. He says: “I’ve been retired now for over seven years, and I’ve never really had the feeling I want to be out there and the closer this World Cup gets, having played in three of them… And it’s on home soil, that desire is going to get stronger and stronger.”
Series overview
Featuring top names from Olympic gold medalists to Champions League winners, the award-winning Sports Life Stories series focuses on the lives of iconic sporting figures.
Each of the eight episodes in this returning series tells the tale of a sporting legend, allowing each individual to open up about their careers and personal lives, and giving a vivid insight into how the impact of their achievements can reach into people's lives.
This series features:
Footballer Peter Shilton
Cyclist Chris Froome
Athlete Paula Radcliffe
Footballer Andy Cole
Athlete Linford Christie
Footballer John Barnes
Rugby player Jason Robinson
Boxer Carl Froch
Contributions from well-known friends and admirers illuminate the lives and work of the subjects and provide a close view into what drives them to succeed in their careers.