Toulon and their money-bags president Mourad Boudjellal are confident of persuading Jonny Wilkinson to apply his thumbprint to a contract extension that will disappoint at least half-a-dozen rival European teams who had hoped to make a move on the celebrated outside-half after next year's World Cup in New Zealand. Boudjellal, who made his pile in the comic-strip business and now has a real-life sporting superhero on his hands, opened discussions late last week and is on record as promising to throw as much money at Wilkinson as it takes.
World Cups are a natural watershed for rugby's increasingly itinerant band of top-drawer professionals: clubs playing in all three major European domestic competitions – the Aviva Premiership in England, the Top 14 in France and the newly-expanded Celtic-Italian Magners League – expect a fresh influx of personnel from the southern hemisphere immediately the global gathering concludes in 13 months' time. Wilkinson, out of contract at the end of the current season, might easily be tempted by pastures new, especially as he is now on the wrong side of 30. Hence Boudjellal's determination to put the tin lid on any talk of a change of allegiance.
The president has not so much showered the Englishman with praise as drowned him in it, describing him as one of the "10 biggest players in the history of rugby". That may have been stretching the point, but the dead-eyed goal-kicker's form in recent weeks has been strong, to the point that Boudjellal spoke of him playing to his World Cup-winning "2003 vintage".
Wilkinson missed Toulon's opening match of the campaign through injury, but has stayed on the field for all but eight minutes since. In half-a-dozen matches, he has accumulated 102 points, landing eight penalties and a conversion in defeat against Racing Metro, scoring two tries in a 21-point haul against Agen and claiming all but five of the 28 points his side scored in victory over the powerhouses of Clermont Auvergne last weekend.
Boudjellal claims Wilkinson has indicated a willingness to extend his stay on the Riviera. "As I want to keep him at any price, we should come to an agreement quite quickly," he said, with the air of a man accustomed to getting his way. But if English clubs are all but certain to be priced out of the market, the England manager, Martin Johnson, is only too happy at the outside-half's current level of performance. With Toby Flood injured and struggling to make the opening autumn international against the All Blacks in November, Wilkinson is a stone-cold certainty to reclaim the No 10 shirt. Always assuming he survives the opening two rounds of the Heineken Cup scheduled for next month.
Chris Robshaw, the Harlequins captain who led the England second-string in a couple of matches during the summer tour of Australia and New Zealand, is free to face Exeter at the Stoop this weekend after beating a disciplinary rap yesterday. The flanker was cited for an alleged dangerous tackle on the Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson 11 days ago, but the case was dismissed by a Rugby Football Union panel chaired by the chief disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett.
The news was not so good up at Sale: the loose-head prop Eifion Lewis Roberts may miss the remainder of the season after damaging knee ligaments during the win over Quins last Friday. The medics are waiting for the swelling to ease before deciding whether the Welshman needs surgery.Reuse content