Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Stop Wilkinson and we've big chance: McCall

Good kicking: Jonny Wilkinson poses huge threat to Ulsterman Mark McCall's hopes of guiding Saracens to Heineken Cup win

Saracens must heed the harsh lessons of last season's "incredible regret" to fend off Jonny Wilkinson and claim their first Heineken Cup crown, according to Ulsterman Mark McCall.

Boss McCall believes Saracens – controversial 17-15 winners over Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at Ravenhill – gifted Toulon 18 of their 24 points in last season's 24-12 semi-final loss.

Saracens slipped up in the last four of both European action and the Aviva Premiership last term.

The Men In Black are battling for a European and league double this term, starting by facing Toulon in the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff tomorrow.

Former Ulster player and coach McCall knows Saracens must cut off Wilkinson's points supply line to keep those double dreams alive.

"Jonny kicked 24 points last year, one was a drop-goal and the rest were penalties," said the Saracens rugby director.

"Six of those penalties we gave away when we were in possession of the ball.

"We weren't under the pump, we weren't hanging on for dear life – we had possession of the ball in our half.

"And there's a lesson for us in that it's very important when you play Jonny Wilkinson and Toulon how you approach the game and where you play.

"They are an outstanding defensive team, they are very good over the ball.

"Alain Rolland gives penalties quickly against the ball carrier, so you've got to be accurate when you go into contact.

"And we've got to play more of the game in their half.

"This time last year we were finished, the season was over and there was this incredible regret and disappointment.

"I think we're just chuffed that we're preparing for a huge match.

"But it's important we keep things as they always are, our very best performances are always preceded by our best preparation weeks."

Wilkinson will retire after the Heineken Cup and French Top 14 finals as Toulon chase a European and domestic double of their own.

The 34-year-old World Cup winner has enjoyed a new lease of life since swapping Newcastle for Toulon in 2009, easing past his previous horror-show injury glut.

McCall said Australia centre Matt Giteau has had a big hand in that, helping Wilkinson add extra dimensions to Toulon's already-threatening attacking game.

McCall admitted Saracens must not allow Giteau time or space to dictate play in Cardiff, otherwise star-studded Toulon will wind up retaining the trophy.

"He's a very special player because he's got not only a fantastic passing game, he kicks the ball well, he's stronger and quicker than most people think," said McCall of Giteau.

"And he's at his most dangerous when he's at the line with a winger on his inside, and you can't take your eye off him for a second, he's a superb player.

"Toulon are a brilliant rugby team. There's this common view of how to beat them, just to move their big men around and play with tempo, and everyone who has done that has come up short.

"So you've got to have other plans and find ways of stressing them, taking away their energy and moving their big men around in a different kind of way.

"So hopefully we'll be able to execute some things to do just that."

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