Rugby players and Christianity don’t seem to go together, unless you are England rugby player Jason Robinson. Jonathan Carswell reports
‘Robbo', as he is known to his fellow players, began his career at Wigan Rugby League Club after his home team Leeds turned him down. The day after his 17th birthday he turned professional. By the age of 19 he was an international player.
In 2000 he switched codes, signing for Sale – a transition that many felt he would not succeed at. Then, with only 10 Union matches under his belt, he was selected for England. In his own words, “I just love playing rugby … on any ground”.
Tortured by loneliness
Jason was brought up in a small terraced house in a deprived area of Leeds, often witnessing “the battlefield” of his drunken step-father beating his Mum, and her children. “Watching your Mum being beaten up is something no one should have to experience,” he says. “There was bloodshed and screaming rows. An air of menace pervaded that house.”
He struggled at school and felt that he only gained some form of identity when he had hold of a rugby ball.
His life began to change as he progressed in rugby. He was drinking heavily, partying all night and now had a child with another one on the way. He had charges for assault, affray and criminal damage hanging over him, and was tortured by a loneliness at odds with a public image of confidence, fun and popularity.
Faith in a friend
Inga T’wingamala, a rugby giant in every sense of the word, was playing for Wigan at the same time as Jason, and “through the fog of my own despair I could not help but notice him”. He knew Inga was somehow different from the other guys. He had happiness, meaning and a purpose to his life beyond rugby.
“Sometimes you’d go into the treatment room and find Inga reading his Bible. He would read aloud. Inga wasn’t chasing anything. He didn’t go out drinking with the other lads. He didn’t sleep around. He didn’t have the best car in the car park. Why was he so happy?”
As weeks of friendship turned into months, Jason learned of Inga’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Inga didn’t force anything on Jason, but he answered questions when asked. He explained how individual wrongdoing and thinking separates a person from God, but how God the Father sent Jesus into the world.
When Jesus was crucified, he didn’t just go through physical pain, but also all the agony of the punishment that resulted from all human sin. Jesus paid the punishment for sin - in our place.
Inga explained how Jesus not only died, but rose again, proving that His claims were true. Jason could stake his whole life and future on Jesus, giving control over to Him as his Lord, and trusting Him as his Saviour and rescuer.
It was some time later that Jason realised that it wasn’t money, a bigger house, or a faster car that he needed, but forgiveness of his sin, and a relationship with God. “I felt like God had taken the scales from my eyes,” he says.
Jesus changes lives
Jason’s life was turned on its head. Life, including his rugby, had new meaning. The drinking and drunkenness came to a halt, the swearing stopped, and he began to work on reconciliation with Amanda, who is now his wife.
Jason explained why his faith affects everything: “The Bible says you will know people who are Christians by the way they live and act. Being a Christian is not all about do’s and don’ts, but about what is right and what is wrong.
“I love my rugby; I love the physical side especially; but in the end the Bible says that in everything we should do it unto the Lord. All I am doing is trying to do that. I pray to God now in everything I do, and try to live my life by following the Gospels. I live for Him, and that includes everything, on and off the pitch.”
“Jesus changes lives. Whatever we have done Jesus loves us enough to forgive us. He showed this when He died on the cross. He was taking the punishment we deserve so that if we ask Him, we would be free and able to start a new relationship with Him.”
While England’s progress in the Rugby World Cup will be having many supporters praying, it’s good to know that at the heart of the team is a man who knows where real success lies: knowing Jesus and following Him.
*Jason Robinson’s autobiography is called Finding my feet and is published by Hodder and Stoughton
Christian Publishing & Outreach, registered in England & Wales (Charity no 221462).
Company limited by guarantee No 588731. VAT no 860 219 341.
Registered office: CPO, Garcia Estate, Canterbury Road, Worthing BN13 1BW, UK