Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Heineken final shows us that you get what you pay for in the modern game

Jonny Wilkinson

While the top two teams in the RaboDirect Pro12 battle it out next weekend, it is the turn of the top two teams in the French League, the Top 14, this weekend.

The only difference is that the behemoths of French rugby, Clermont Auvergne and Toulon, will compete for the top prize in European rugby.

It is unquestionable proof that a wallet and budget full to the brim is a differentiating factor in the chance of success.

I say chance, because it does not guarantee you success or at least not sustained success.

Key is the club culture and the personalities within.

Thus, it is impressive that despite the mega-salaries both Clermont and Toulon have recruited players who are not only exceptionally talented and experienced but they have also bought into the clubs' identity, vision and ambition.

They love the clubs that they play for.

It is a factor that Ulster, under David Humphreys, has embraced.

It is not enough to buy the player, you also buy the man, so character is vital.

For Toulon, Jonny Wilkinson is that man and he offers his team their greatest chance of success.

They will need him and more if they are to overturn the odds and defeat Clermont, the outstanding team of the tournament. Yet, he is worth at least 15 points on his own, so score a try and 20 points gives you a chance.

I can still remember the mental implosion of Clermont's Brock James at the RDS against Leinster several years ago, and that particular head to head will be fascinating.

In many ways, the game could either be an exhilarating display of open and exciting rugby or more likely a bit of an anticlimax, dominated by set-piece and kicks.

What we can be certain of is that it will be monumentally physical – the tackles and breakdown will be as competitive as anything we have seen before.

This is Test match rugby and even though Clermont are favourites I fancy Jonny to have a definitive say with the boot and add another chapter to his fairytale story.

• CLERMONT and Toulon clash at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday (5.00pm), the main event following Leinster's showdown with Stade Francais in the Amlin Challenge Cup at the RDS the night before (8.00pm) in a showpiece weekend for the sport.

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