Jonny the genius passes first French test with ease

You couldn't quite call him the coolest guy in the ground. Not beside the Mediterranean, with temperatures still in the high 20s at 11pm.

Yet with 17 points from that trusty left boot, a couple of audacious long touch kicks and his inherent ability to put his team where they would like to be, Jonny Wilkinson reminded his new audience at Toulon that, even at 30 and after almost a year out, plenty of his genius remains.

Wilkinson guided a nervous Toulon to a 22-22 draw with Stade Français on the opening night of the French season. It was an individual performance that offered hope not just for the ambitious French club but, perhaps, England too.

The control Wilkinson has always exuded in his own life remains manifest upon the rugby field; unflustered, calm and decisive, the fly-half negotiated his latest comeback with the aplomb to be expected of a World Cup winner.

Four penalty goals, a drop goal and a conversion was his haul on a hot night at Stade Mayol and his new fans loved it. He lined up goal-kicks in almost reverential silence and even those attempts that missed (two penalties and a drop) were applauded. Looking tanned and fit, as befits a resident of the south of France in August, Wilkinson signaled that his contribution to Toulon's cause is unlikely to be insignificant.

Stade's Australian coach, Ewen McKenzie, admitted as much, saying: "At least he showed he was human by dropping the ball at the end. But he will be a key man and will do a great job for them. I am glad we played them now because I am sure he'll improve in terms of generating attacks."

Afterwards, Wilkinson was almost buried by a cluster of microphones. He said: "This is a big experience, something I need to work to get used to. There are a lot of different bits to take on board. That is going to be the strength of how I contribute to this team – how quickly I pick that up.

"I didn't feel before the game I was kicking that well. You could see with a couple of wider ones I wasn't really troubling the target but thankfully the drop goal went over. It was just a shame we had the lead most of the game and to have held on would have been a big thing. But we have a lot of lessons we must learn from the draw."

Switching to French, Wilkinson went on: "It was a great experience, the atmosphere was fantastic. I know it is necessary I learn a lot and do it quickly. It's very physical but that's the same as in England. That's not a problem for me. I'm in good health and ready to play."

Two other potential inclusions in Martin Johnson's England plans this winter also made their French debuts in the game. The former Wasps Tom Palmer and James Haskell did enough to impress their coach, McKenzie.

"I have been very happy with their progress, they have fitted in really well," he said. "Palmer will be a great threat at set-pieces and he looks to have good discipline."

Palmer, the lock who was the more impressive of the two, said the match had been played in "an amazing atmosphere" and added: "I thought I did all right, the line-outs went pretty well. But it was a difficult game to get into, with so much kicking. And it was so hot – I reckon I lost half a stone out there through sweat."

Haskell, the young flanker whose move raised serious concerns within English rugby, was shown a yellow card. He stood out chiefly for wearing a ridiculous white headguard and white boots and he show-ponied accordingly for most of the first half. He improved a little afterwards, but he clearly has much still to do.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project