Heineken Cup 2014: Jonny Wilkinson proud of Toulon team-mates
Heineken Cup 2014: Jonny Wilkinson heaps praise on Toulon after a 24-16 semi-final victory over Munster on Sunday
Jonny Wilkinson is proud of the way his Toulon team-mates came through a huge test against Munster to reach the final of the Heineken Cup.
The outside-half, 34, kicked 21 points—including a trademark first-half drop-goal—as the reigning European champions defeated the Irish province 24-16 in Marseille to reach a European final for the fourth time in five years.
To keep asking that question of your players is a hell of a demand and for them to keep coming through is a hell of a response
“I’m really proud of the guys and the way they chip in,” Wilkinson said.
“These games do go either way; they turn. There’s no way you have the right to say at start that you’ll win or not.”
The Côte d’Azur club were overwhelming favourites with bookmakers before the game, and few gave Munster a chance, but Rob Penney’s charges prevented the French side from scoring a try – wing Simon Zebo making a last-ditch tackle on Steffon Armitage in the second half to force the powerful flanker’s foot into touch before he grounded the ball in the corner.
Zebo went from try-saver to try-scorer, but it wasn’t enough for Munster as their indiscipline allowed Wilkinson to keep the scoreboard ticking over from all angles, save for a long-range effort in the first half which was handed to full-back Delon Armitage.
Despite Wilkinson’s ever-impressive, but not perfect, kicking getting Toulon over the line, it was very much another hard-fought team effort from the French Top14 leaders and sets up a grudge rematch with Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens after Wilkinson despatched the Londoners with seven penalties and a drop-goal in last year’s semi-final win at Twickenham.
“You just give it everything and when those moments come you’ve just got to be present, do the right things and hang in there,” he added.
“To keep asking that question of your players is a hell of a demand and for them to keep coming through is a hell of a response.”
The former Newcastle Falcons and England star is widely tipped to call time on a stellar career this summer ahead of Leigh Halfpenny’s arrival at the Stade Mayol.
And with Toulon on course for a potential double it would be the perfect way to bow out after a playing career which saw him win the Premiership title in his first season, aged 18, but struggle to taste the kind of success at club level that he enjoyed on the international stage.
“I spent years watching people winning this competition and dreaming about it myself,” Wilkinson said.
“We had a couple of shots at it [with the Falcons] – one of which we got out of the group stage, and in the other we had great experiences against Leinster, Toulouse, and these sorts of guys.
“Now it’s an amazing thing just to experience it, but to get into the latter stages and find yourself on the winning side is the other side of that dream.
“It’s great in a way that it’s happening at the end of my career, rather than at the start.”
And now to Saracens, who humiliated Clermont Auvergne 46-6 in their semi-final on Saturday after the wolfpack threw everything, including 193 tackles, at the French side and their backs ran in five tries and were gifted a penalty try.
The Allianz Park club, already guaranteed a home semi-final in the Premiership play-offs, are 270 minutes away from what would be a famous double for an English club, even if it will cost them having to refund the 2,000 or so fans who bought their season tickets early for next season after an inviting offer made by the club chairman made a few months ago.
“I have the greatest respect for Saracens,” Wilkinson added. “They stand out for their thoroughness and professionalism.
“This year they have found the capacity to play better than last against anyone. If we don’t take to the field with 100 per cent focus we’ll get annihilated like Clermont did.”