Saracens 12 Toulon 24 match report: Sarries find no answer to wizardly Wilkinson

 

Twickenham

Same as it ever was. Jonny Wilkinson's approach to the outside-half's art may not be as captivating as Barry John's or as complete as Daniel Carter's – he is, in some senses, a small piece of a No 10 unnaturally developed – but the parts of his game that work best are on the supreme side of brilliant. The most celebrated player of his generation guided Toulon to their first Heineken Cup final yesterday with a 24-point haul, three of which came from a drop goal that may just have been better than the one he landed on World Cup-winning night a decade ago.

Yes, the famous drop for England against Australia in Sydney was off his weaker right foot and was executed in testing weather conditions under the most extreme pressure imaginable. But this one, off his left peg on a decent track, had its own challenges – most notably the proximity of the ultra-aggressive Owen Farrell, who closed in on his opposite number with hostile intent just as Wilkinson shaped to kick and clattered him the moment he made contact with the ball. Under the circumstances, the delivery was nothing short of miraculous.

In one of the more theatrically memorable moments of this European campaign, or perhaps any other, Farrell, who had landed on top of his forerunner as England's playmaker in chief, peered back at the posts, saw the low-flying ball clear the bar and sank, disbelieving, into his rival's arms.

Wilkinson's response? A pat on the back so honest and so touching in its sympathy that it reinforced everything we thought we knew about the man. He is a competitor in the classical sense: utterly implacable, yet wholly generous and fair-minded.

So much so that when the predictable question was asked in the immediate aftermath of the game – might he, at the very last minute and after all he had said to the contrary, be up for one last shot at Lions glory in Australia this summer? – he continued to push the claims of others. "I'm digging in with my fingernails these days," he said. "There are young players out there: people like Owen and Toby Flood in England, Dan Biggar in Wales, Jonathan Sexton in Ireland. This is their era. I want those guys to experience the forthcoming tour because they deserve it."

All the same, the Lions hierarchy looking down on events from the posh seats above the old cabbage patch must be pondering the whys and wherefores as they piece together their squad ahead of tomorrow's formal announcement.

Wilkinson's masterly intervention came 73 minutes into a semi-final that had offered plenty of muscularity but precious little in the way of invention or exhilaration.

Toulon were 18-12 up and had both eyes on the countdown clock: while they had won most of the battles that mattered and bossed things at scrum and breakdown, their outsized forwards were blowing hard and decelerating by the second. They knew that if the Saracens full-back Alex Goode, by some distance the most creative player on view, could just find a way of freeing Chris Ashton or Joel Tomkins down a wide channel, their lead could be wiped out in a trice. The drop goal put paid to that, ruthlessly and decisively.

Indeed, Wilkinson went on to add an eighth successful kick with a left-sided penalty after the Londoners, now lost in a mist of deflation and desperation, fumbled the ball in midfield and put themselves offside.

Saracens were by no means 12 points worse than their opponents but sometimes in rugby there is an extra force at work.

Before kick-off, the talk had been about the geography of the game: about whether Farrell could match Wilkinson in navigating his team around the field and giving them a territorial advantage. In the event, it was more about the geology of the game than the geography. Toulon arrived with a huge amount of physical ballast and had rocks of every type – igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic – in their forward pack. When the earth cracked and moved, it was the French side who did the cracking and the English one who were forced to move.

Mako Vunipola, the young loose-head prop who many felt was performing a Lions audition, had some mighty moments in broken field, but he was tested to the limit and beyond when it came to the set-piece duties. Another fast-tracked Saracens forward, the flanker Jackson Wray, suffered similarly: there were some excellent touches here and there, but whenever he entered Danie Rossouw's unforgiving orbit, the Springbok threw him around like a rag doll.

Indeed, a Saracens side cruelly shorn of the red-hot breakaway forward Will Fraser barely began to fathom a way of nullifying the visitors' polyglot loose combination, which also featured the Argentinian maestro Juan Fernandez Lobbe and the All Black recruit Chris Masoe. Fernandez Lobbe triumphed in the aerial exchanges while Masoe's tackling around the fringes repeatedly snuffed out potential danger at source. With Rossouw's strong-arm work providing a dark and occasionally disturbing dimension, Toulon dominated the collisions.

Only once did Saracens seriously threaten to break down the barricades.

Six points adrift shortly after the interval, they saw the back of Rossouw for 10 precious minutes after the South African hit Vunipola with a high tackle for the second time.

Suddenly, the men from the Premiership were in the ascendant: Farrell closed the gap to three by landing the resulting penalty and when Vunipola broke free and stampeded towards the Toulon line, it looked for all the world as though a game-breaking try would be theirs. Sadly for them, Farrell threw a forward pass to Kelly Brown with the line at the Scotsman's mercy.

Four minutes later, the excellent Masoe stopped the overmatched Wray dead in his tracks and forced the youngster into a penalty concession. Wilkinson tried his luck from 52 metres, bisected the sticks with his customary precision and restored the six-point margin.

Saracens must have suspected then that the game was up. After the drop goal, there was no room left for doubt.

Scorers: Saracens: Penalties Farrell 4. Toulon: Penalties Wilkinson 7; Drop goal Wilkinson.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Barritt (C Hodgson, 53), D Strettle (C Wyles, 44); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (N De Kock, 50); M Vunipola (R Gill, 6-12 and 68), S Brits (J Smit, 63), M Stevens (C Nieto, 68), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves (M Botha, 68), J Wray, K Brown, E Joubert (G Kruis, 48).

Toulon: D Armitage; R Wulf, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, A Palisson; J Wilkinson (capt), S Tillous-Borde; A Sheridan (G Jenkins, 60), S Bruno (J-C Orioli, 51), C Hayman (D Kubriashvili, 77), B Botha, N Kennedy (J Suta, 56), D Rossouw (S Armitage, 65, M Mermoz, 77), J M Fernandez Lobbe, C Masoe (J Van Niekerk, 70).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
Life and Style
life
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

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits