We should have known that Jonny Wilkinson had a spiritual side from the way he clasps his hands as if in prayer before he kicks for goal.
Now the England rugby star has revealed that he has found inner peace through Buddhism.
Wilkinson, 29, who became a national hero in the 2003 World Cup, said the religion had helped him overcome a fear of failure which was ruining his life.
His obsessive perfectionism had been making him miserable but Buddhism had liberated him from being motivated by ‘money, status, or ego’.
Shaggy: England rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson with his longer hair and more relaxed attitude playing for the Newcastle Falcons last weekend
The millionaire sportsman said that within 24 hours of winning the World Cup final against Australia in Sydney, he felt a powerful feeling of anticlimax.
‘I did not know what it really meant to be happy. I was afflicted by a powerful fear of failure and did not know how to free myself from it.’
Soon afterwards his career was derailed by injuries which put him out of the international game for four years.
To distract himself he tried learning the guitar, the piano, French and Spanish.
In the end he had a ‘Eureka’ moment while reading a book on quantum physics – the study of sub-atomic particles.
More relaxed: Wilkinson now and during the World Cup in 2003 which left him fearing failure despite his final drop goal clinching victory for England‘Quantum physics helped me to realise that I was creating this destructive reality and that all I needed to do to change it was to change the way I chose to perceive the world,’ he told the Times.
‘I do not like religious labels, but there is a connection between quantum physics and Buddhism, which I was also getting into.
‘Failing at something is one thing, but Buddhism tells us that it is up to us how we interpret that failure.
'The so-called Middle Way is also about having the right intentions.
In love: The fly-half with girlfriend Shelley Jenkins early last year
‘Are they decent and honest and are you giving consideration to other people? Selfishness can never be the route to happiness or success.’
Wilkinson’s live-in girlfriend Shelley Jenkins, 27, the daughter of a scaffolding magnate, is apparently ‘really happy’ about Wilkinson’s new enlightenment.
‘I have improved as a person in my relationships, not just with her, but with friends and family,’ he said.
Asked to explain the deeper reason for his Buddhist faith, he added: ‘I think it was rooted in an even deeper fear of death.
‘I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose.
‘I have accepted my career will finish one day and I am in a place that will enable me to make that transition comfortably. I will not have to reinvent myself to cope with life after rugby.’
Although Wilkinson is about to publish his autobiography, it will not mention Buddhism and physics in case anyone ‘might have thought I was trying to be the new Stephen Hawking’.