Toulon 23 Saracens 6: Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Borthwick - peas in the same pod of collective responsibility

Two stalwarts of the English game bid farewell in Cardiff

Don’t see this as the battle of England fly-halves past and present, of Jonny Wilkinson and Owen Farrell. See it as the last meeting of the class of 1979, Wilkinson and Steve Borthwick, who have now only one more game to play (the domestic finals of France and England respectively) in their illustrious careers.

See it as a meeting of minds more closely aligned than initially seems possible. In the first 40 minutes here, Wilkinson seemed almost a peripheral figure, much of Toulon’s tactical approach revolving around his scrum-half, Sébastien Tillous-Borde, but every time he touched the ball Wilkinson, the top points scorer in this season’s Heineken Cup with 113, oozed class.

Borthwick, whose presence in this final seemed in doubt after straining chest muscles against Harlequins a week earlier, was the epitome of work ethic. He secured lineout ball, he hit rucks, he mauled, tackled and did what made him a wonderful example of the professional player.

Wilkinson, though, is a game-changer. It was his switch-play which created room for Matt Giteau to chip ahead and then support Drew Mitchell for the try that seemed made in Australia but had more than an assist from England. And Wilkinson – of course – converted from the touchline, as he did when Juan Smith scored a try that stemmed from Wilkinson’s wide pass.

What else did he do? Well, just the trademark dropped goal, merely the two penalties (both from more than 40 metres). But, as importantly, he has helped draw this disparate team together by the example he sets and has set for the past 16 years: “If you play with Jonny Wilkinson, you can’t come second, you can’t be average, you can’t fail because you are a team protected by God,” Mourad Boudjellal, Toulon’s owner and never short of a colourful word, said.

To claim that Wilkinson and Borthwick are peas from the same pod might be straining the image. Little and large, back and forward, champion points scorer against Borthwick’s 10 international points. Yet they are.

Wilkinson is a mere 18 weeks older and both men were born with old heads on tiny shoulders. Both have precisely the same attitude to rugby, that the collective is far more important than the individual.

No matter all the records that Wilkinson has broken, he has done it all for the team. Everything that Borthwick has ever done, for Bath, for Saracens or for England, has been for the team. You read few significant words from the Cumbrian lock in the build-up to yesterday’s final. He does his talking to those closest to him, players, coaches or management.

He and Wilkinson played together in the England schools squad of 1997, a squad that ended its days together touring and winning in Australia. Close friends of Borthwick will tell you that, even then, he was certain of what he wanted from the team and that he would argue the toss with his coaches if he believed he was right.

He brings with him a formidable rugby intellect, as well as a degree from Bath University in politics and economics. Andy Robinson, coach at Bath when he joined, famously said: “I’ll help you learn if you’re prepared to work.” How Borthwick has worked, not as visibly as Wilkinson perhaps with his kicking sessions which could go deep into an evening, but in making himself the best player he could be and the best analyst of play that he could be.

“I feel genuinely privileged to have played with Steve,” Phil Vickery, the former England captain and prop, told Sky’s Rugby Club last week. “I think the way he was treated by England was a travesty.” Ah yes, England. Dropping Borthwick after he had been his captain in 20 matches was, Martin Johnson said, the hardest decision he took as England manager.

Would England have imploded at the 2011 World Cup with Borthwick at the helm? We will never know and now it does not matter. He appeared in 57 internationals – 18 of them at the same time as Wilkinson – yet may be among the least remembered of half-centurions while Wilkinson, with 91 caps and his 2003 World Cup-winning dropped goal, has a place among rugby’s legends.

“I can’t get to 35 and give up the game, and then realise that I never quite got out of it what I wanted,” Wilkinson said back in 2002. Today he turns 35; next month he will, finally, have the chance to start reflecting on everything he did achieve, and whether it was sufficient.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
football
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
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

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?