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An ode to Billy Whizz

Paul Clarke pays tribute to a rugby legend hanging up his boots

Published on July 13th 2011.

An ode to Billy Whizz

I SUPPOSE most people will remember Leeds born and bred Jason Robinson for his World Cup winning try when he played with the after shave drinkers in rugby union.

But for an Rugby League nut like me, it was his exploits for the all-conquering Wigan side of the 1990s that evoke the greatest memories.

He is by a mile the greatest winger I've witnessed in my lifetime, and there's a very strong argument he was greatest ever, with an almost unique blend of searing foot speed, superhuman acceleration and a devastating side step thrown in.

"Jason Robinson was the first black player to captain England and also won his battle over alcoholism that threatened to derail his career"

His career began at Hunlset before famously turning down a contract with Leeds because he didn’t think the time was right. He somehow eluded them and ended up at Wigan where he was dubbed ‘Billy Whizz’.

He made his debut for the Cherry and Whites aged 19, picking up his first Challenge Cup medal the same year, and made his first appearance for Great Britain. His strike rate was amazing, running in 184 tries in fewer than 300 appearances. He routinely made mugs of league backs who can actually tackle, unlike their union counterparts who play touch rugby.

Ironically, his greatest moment before he switched codes was his one man demolition job on Leeds in the 1995 Challenge Cup final, which earned him the coveted Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match. I watched that final and his display that day was perfection as he ran rings round the opposition.

Looking back at his league stats it's sad to think he only played 19 times for Great Britain, and if he had stuck around we might have won an Ashes series against the bloody Aussies.

He decided to switch codes and is probably the best ever double international, If you want evidence for that then consider how badly another Wigan great Andy Farrell did when he switched.

Only Robinson could have found the time, space and speed needed to score that match winning try when England lifted the World Cup. But his greatness as a union wing was also based on the defensive discipline he learned as a boy in Hunslet playing out series after series of six tackles.

Jason Robinson was the first black player to captain the England side, and a mark of his famous mental toughness was his victory over alcoholism that threatened to derail his career.

Leeds is rightly proud of nurturing a player who was a massive success in both codes, but he was a great winger because he was - as one of my mates put it so eloquently - ‘like shit off a shovel’.

But while we celebrate a great career, it is also tinged with sadness that he never returned home to play a farewell season or two with the Rhinos to remind us that he actually learnt his trade on our side of the fence.

You can follow Paul Clarke on Twitter @PaulLeedsConf

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