Described by former Sale Sharks team-mate Steve Hanley as “quite simply, the best player to have ever played rugby”, Jason Robinson’s seven years in union proved more than enough time to earn a place in the Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame.
The statistics alone are impressive – 33 tries in 111 Premiership Rugby games, captaining Sale to their first-ever Premiership title, a World Cup winner, two European Challenge Cups, a two-time British & Irish Lion and 28 England tries in 51 appearances – but Robinson also passed the eye test with flying colours.
Despite standing at just 5ft 8in tall, the Leeds-born speedster played like a giant as he dazzled with ball in hand and caused defences fits with his incisive running lines.
Equally comfortable at full-back or on the wing, the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Billy Whizz’ had already conquered rugby league – winning the Super League, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge with Wigan Warriors – by the time he switched permanently to the XV-man code in 2000.
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And Robinson utilised his league background to devastating effect in union, as Jonny Wilkinson once admitted.
The former England fly-half said: “Jason’s ability to beat players both ways, and make 90-degree direction changes without losing speed, obliterated what I believed were the limits for footwork and speed.”
After changing codes, the Yorkshireman took little time to make his mark on rugby union – touring with the Lions within a year, helping Sale to their maiden European title within two and scoring England’s only try in the final as the Red Rose lifted the World Cup for the first time within three.
Arguably his finest club moment came at Twickenham on 27 May 2006 when he skippered Sale to a 45-20 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Premiership Rugby Final.
Although he didn’t score in the game itself, his inspirational leadership and mesmeric form had proved pivotal in bringing them to that point.
The 2004-05 season had seen Sharks suffer semi-final heartbreak to Wasps but one year later, Robinson – having led his team to the top of the regular-season table – scored the only try as they got revenge with a 22-12 victory at Edgeley Park to set up the showdown with Tigers at Rugby HQ.
And with Sale having a 23-10 lead to protect from half-time, their captain marvel inspired with words as well as deeds.
“Jason was a talker,” reveals Sale and Wales centre Mark Taylor. “He was always the voice in the changing room.
“He talked a lot but it was more than that – he was a tough man, tackling, going on crash balls, he would not expect anyone to do something he wouldn’t do.”
The triumph etched Robinson’s name even more indelibly into the history books as he became the first man in history to win both the Super League and Premiership Rugby trophies.
And the man that legendary coach Graham Henry once described as “a Gerald Davies for the new millennium” will now take his rightful place in the Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame.