Wilkinson says club title ‘up there’ with World Cup
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English flyback Jonny Wilkinson said his European Cup victory with Toulon, a club often accused of buying success with its 20-million-euro-plus budget, was "right up there," if not "beyond" the World Cup title he won with England, ten year ago.
Toulon thrilled their fans and dismissed detractors who have accused them of buying success on Saturday when they were crowned European champions for the first time, in a victory flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson said was as good as winning the World Cup – if not better.
“A fantastic game from start to finish,” said FRANCE 24’s Marc Owen.
“The level of combat, the fact that every ball was fought for, the intensity of each tackle, really made for something quite interesting to watch,” he said.
Backed by president Mourad Boudjellal’s personal millions, the club have been ridiculed for their policy of paying high wages to international “has-beens”. A week shy of his 34th birthday, captain Wilkinson proved anything but on Saturday, when Toulon beat Clermont-Auvergne 16-15.
A win that goes “beyond” the World Cup for Wilkinson
The former England number 10, who kicked all of Toulon’s points in the quarter and semi-finals, was immediately asked how it compared to the famous drop goal that won the World Cup for his country 10 years ago.
“It’s right up there, in fact it sort of goes beyond because life’s in the now,” Wilkinson told a news conference.
In 2009, after 12 years with Newcastle Falcons during which he won just one league title and two Powergen Cups, he signed for ambitious Toulon and four years later he’s earned his reward.
“It’s been hugely important, you question yourself the whole time whether you still deserve to be in teams like this and moments like this make you look at what an amazing opportunity we all have.”
Wilkinson recently turned down the opportunity to tour with the British and Irish Lions next month to focus on the French side’s hunt for a double before using the off-season to rest his battered body.
He reiterated on Saturday that all he could concentrate on was giving everything to the club and his team mates, including three fellow Englishmen, three Kiwis, two South Africans and an Australian in the starting line-up in Dublin. “Never say never, but everything I’ve got is going toward these guys and this club,” he said.
Toulon, like many French teams including Saturday’s opponents Clermont, has an annual budget of over 20 million euros, around three times that of English league leaders Saracens.
The Toulon team is indeed “full of stars, many of them highly paid, which is quite controversial because French rugby purists consider that as not being in the spirit of the sport,” said Marc Owen.
However coach Bernard Laporte, who led France to two Six Nations grand slams before returning to the club game two years ago, said the big-spending side and in particular their experienced players now deserved some respect.
“At the beginning of the year they were the subject of a lot of criticism, but Jonny, Mathieu (Bastareaud), Matt (Giteau) they have given a lot to the younger players and this deserves respect,” the beaming, bald-headed coach said.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)