Heineken Cup final: Jonny Wilkinson alive and still kicking for Toulon
Sunday 19 May 2013
It came close to topping the drama of Sydney 10 years ago, and the margins were just as thin as Jonny Wilkinson held up his end of the bargain by winning a first Heineken Cup for both himself and Toulon.
Yesterday in Dublin his presence, which has helped install a culture of success at the French club, was punctuated by his ability to split the posts with his four kicks, delivering a perfect 100 per cent return.
The winning try against Clermont Auvergne was scored by another Englishman, Delon Armitage. In the 63rd minute Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe's arm-wrestling power ripped the ball from a lame Clermont attack, allowing Armitage to race across the line for a try which Wilkinson converted with his final kick.
Every factor in Wilkinson's decision to head for France in 2009 led to this moment as he sought protection from the elements which had constantly hamstrung him at home. To that end he could not have asked for more effective instruments than Australian Matt Giteau on his outside shoulder and some serious piano shifters inside him. However, in the first half nobody in red seemed capable of taking care of the ball, yet Wilkinson remained calm, absorbed the bad vibrations and acted as Toulon's earthing wire.
His defensive work remains as astute as ever, and 10 minutes before half-time he put in a tackle on Sitiveni Sivivatu on his own five-metre line before covering across the width of the pitch, marshalling his defence to prove both body and mind are still working in harmony.
His flesh and bones remain robust, not a summary one could have delivered in his pre-Toulon days, and from the opening kick-off he took his lumps, catching a high ball under pressure from the intimidating Julien Bonnaire.
Wilkinson was not the only Englishman to get a nice bite of the former All Black wing; Andrew Sheridan was soon up to rattle Sivivatu's ribs. But "Big Ted" endured a tiresome day in the scrum, where Toulon coughed up a few penalties.
Armitage had little impact other than his try, and disappointed with his unsporting celebration after these sides, France's best on paper, had appeared more like two superheavyweights whose lack of agility make the ring seem that much smaller with each passing round.
However, Nick Kennedy shone like a beacon in the set-piece for Toulon and it will come as no surprise to London Irish fans that he dominated the air like he did in his Premiership days, while his 6ft 8in frame made the difference when blocking Brock James's first-half drop-goal attempt.
It will rankle with Wilkinson that Clermont's first try had its genesis in his turning over the ball, and for a while it looked like the decisive score. On 47 minutes James dinked over the defence to allow Aurélien Rougerie to stretch his legs as he outpaced and outmuscled Wilkinson before James reappeared on his centre's shoulder to touch down.
But while his legs failed to defy age in that instance, Wilkinson's kicking boots lived up to a reputation now gilded by European gold at the age of 33.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
Luke Shaw arrives a week early for Manchester United pre-season training after cutting short post-World Cup holiday
Luis Suarez joins Barcelona: Wilfried Bony, Karim Benzema and the other transfer targets Liverpool should look to replace Suarez with
PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
Brazil vs Netherlands World Cup 2014: A history of the third-place play-offs
Luis Suarez joins Barcelona: Liverpool and Barca confirm the striker has been sold in £75m, five-year transfer
- 2 Loom bands: Bids for dress made from colourful rubber pass £170,000 on eBay
- 3 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’