Jonny Wilkinson, an even-money shot to return to England's starting line-up when the All Blacks visit Twickenham in a little over five weeks' time, must be doing something right if the man once revered by the French as the "anti-Wilkinson" rates him the best outside-half around. Frédéric Michalak, who began his Test career playing the flawed genius to Wilkinson's flawless robot, believes his old rival is on the verge of delivering something special for his country this autumn.
"He's started the season beautifully and the supporters love him," said Michalak, who takes the view that Wilkinson's move from Tyneside to Toulon has energised his game. "He's the best No 10 in the French league, for sure, and I think it's good for him to be playing his rugby outside England, where there was so much pressure. I can understand how he feels. I was more comfortable, more free, when I left Toulouse for a spell in South Africa. It's right that a player should see somewhere else, and for Jonny, the Côte d'Azur must seem very nice."
Wilkinson will play a key role for Toulon in one of the Heineken Cup's "groups of death" – a pool that features London Irish, Munster and Ospreys. Michalak, meanwhile, is struggling for fitness and is unlikely to feature for Toulouse, the home-town club he rejoined a couple of seasons back, when they begin their European campaign with a high-profile game against Wasps a week on Sunday.
Talking of Wasps, the former Heineken Cup holders hope to move into a new stadium with a capacity of around 20,000 in time for the 2014-15 season. They have identified a 120-acre site on the edge of High Wycombe and are now embarking on a public consultation exercise run under the auspices of the local district council.
Wasps have been sharing Adams Park with Wycombe Wanderers since 2002 and will continue to cohabit with the football club if these plans are given the go-ahead. "We're very limited at our current venue," admitted Wasps' chairman Mark Rigby. "We're very confident the public will respond if we offer first-class facilities, and in terms of success on the field, one feeds the other. At the moment, we operate on half the turnover generated by Leicester. A team can compete on that basis season on season, but it's difficult to do that indefinitely."
Saracens, meanwhile, have apologised to the Heineken Cup administrators for the kerfuffle over the non-appearance of Steve Borthwick at Monday's tournament launch in Cardiff. Borthwick, the club captain, was scheduled to attend, but instead spent the day with his fellow players, sampling the joys of the annual Munich beer festival.
"It was entirely the club's decision that he should attend a pre-arranged squad function, and was nothing to do with Steve," said the Saracens chief executive Ed Griffiths, who sanctioned Borthwick's trip to Germany and may well have earned Saracens a €5,000 fine (£4,246) as a result. "No one can question the professionalism and commitment of perhaps the most professional and committed player in the country. The clash of dates was unfortunate."Reuse content