Wilkinson seeks overdue place in sun with Toulon

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson has not laid his hands on much in the way of silverware since he became the most celebrated rugby player on the planet. In fact, he has been positively starved of anything resembling a trophy. He had barely started shaving when he helped secure the Premiership title for Newcastle in 1997, and when he won the other thing in Sydney six years later, he was still very much a B-list celebrity, if he was a celebrity at all.

Now, of course, he cannot buy himself a croissant without being photographed, but if he helps Toulon, the club he joined last summer, complete an extraordinary season by kicking them to victory in the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Cardiff Blues, he will have croissants delivered to his door for the rest of his natural. Success has been a long time coming down there on the Riviera.

The 50,000 locals who make the trip along the coast to Marseilles tomorrow will canonise the most expensive of their English imports if he delivers. Philippe Saint-André, who does not come cheap himself, has pieced together quite a side, to the extent that no one is talking about the fact that the brilliant Argentine midfielder Felipe Contepomi is off the roster for this one. They have another world-ranked Puma in Juan Fernandez Lobbe and a Springbok flanker in Joe van Niekerk, not to mention Gabi Lovobalavu from Fiji, Matt Henjak from Australia and Sonny Bill Williams from rugby league.

"They have the budget to buy most players they want," said David Young, the Blues coach, with a slight grimace. "But we're hoping to get amongst them. I believe this is about us bringing our game and imposing ourselves. We're respectful of Toulon and we know that if we give them space and time they could carve us up. There again, we have quality players ourselves."

Foremost amongst them are the polyglot back-row trio of Ma'ama Molitika, Martyn Williams and the inspirational Xavier Rush. If they shade the contest for the loose ball, the Blues might find a way of winning the game and securing a Heineken Cup spot for Scarlets, their fellow Welsh region, next season. If Toulon prevail, Gloucester will take the one remaining place in the draw for the elite competition.

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