Heineken Cup final: Jonny Wilkinson alive and still kicking for Toulon


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The Independent Online

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.