Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O'Driscoll face up to last chance of Euro glory

One of the two legends is destined to lose out as Leinster visit Toulouse

Whatever Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O'Driscoll do after their retirements from playing this summer, they know nothing will replace the adrenaline rush of "do or die games", as Wilkinson described this afternoon's Heineken Cup quarter-final between Toulon and Leinster in the south of France.

As the home club's chant of "Pilou, Pilou" reverberates from the harbourside Stade Mayol to the Alpine outcrop of the Massif des Maures and back again, both the celebrated England fly-half and the eminent Ireland centre will know that defeat will end their long career in European competitions.

Neither man has said much yet about the future. Wilkinson may stay in Toulon to tutor their goal-kickers, although he has a part-time role as a 2015 World Cup ambassador to take care of. O'Driscoll may become a house-husband to his actress wife Amy Huberman in the short term; he has been tipped equally as a coach or media pundit in the longer run.

Heineken Cup-wise, O'Driscoll is the master: his 86 Heineken Cup appearances and 33 tries are far superior to the 27 matches and one try on Wilkinson's CV, largely due to the latter's formative years being spent with the down-at-heel Newcastle Falcons. But Wilkinson is the man playing for the cup holders today. Toulon won the final against Clermont Auvergne last season; coincidentally, in Dublin.

The Leinster No 8 Jamie Heaslip – who, together with the currently injured flanker Sean O'Brien, turned down transfer bids from Toulon in recent months, grudgingly witnessed the excited crowds from his then house in Ringsend, not far from the Aviva Stadium. "It did make me a little bit jealous," Heaslip said, even though, like O'Driscoll, he is a three-time Heineken winner.

O'Driscoll is credited by Bernard Jackman, the former Leinster and Ireland hooker who is now head at Grenoble in the French Top 14, with a major role in Leinster overhauling Ireland's original European trailblazers, Munster. "When we turned things around, finishing top of the Magners League in 2008 and winning the Heineken Cup in 2009, it was because of him," Jackman told Rugby World magazine. "He refused to accept shoddy standards, and turned us from a spineless set-up into a better team."

More recently, the Leinster head coach, Matt O'Connor, was an assistant with Leinster when they lost 21-15 at Toulon in last season's quarter-finals. Leinster's pair of international front-rows, allied to the quietly heroic Devin Toner's line-out capability, gives them reason to believe they can hold their hosts in the set-piece. But though Toulon are replete with superstars aged in their 30s who eschew the lavish touches, not even Clermont, a team packed with devastating runners, could hold them at bay in the 2013 final.

There is untold knowhow embodied by Matt Giteau, Carl Hayman, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe and the rest; the mighty Springbok wing Bryan Habana can only make the bench.

It is not just O'Driscoll and Wilkinson retiring; Leo Cullen, Leinster's substitute second-row and former captain, will join the coaching staff this summer. Cullen has visited the Waratahs, Chiefs and Crusaders in recent weeks to take tips from Antipodean luminaries.

"Toulon have got some big units all right, and bigger guys can potentially tire," said Cullen. "[But] if you've got to tackle big guys for a long period of time, it's going to tire you as well." And someone will have to forego the fairytale finish? "Fairytales are not the business we are in," said Cullen. "It is pretty cruel."

Both today's teams lie second in their respective leagues. Jimmy Gopperth, once of Newcastle, has got the nod over Ian Madigan at fly-half for Leinster, to go head to head with old Golden Oval Balls. "The key at this stage of the season is to stay alive and in amongst it all," said Wilkinson. "If we want to win we've got to fight for it."

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