Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

It's a family affair for Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson thinks Toulon have benefited from having players come in from around the world

Jonny Wilkinson has warned Saracens they will face the Toulon "family" in Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final at Twickenham.

The French club are chasing a European and domestic double after years of heavy investment in a squad packed full of seasoned internationals such as Bakkies Botha, Matt Giteau, Andrew Sheridan and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

"There is this fantastic team spirit at Toulon, which I've never felt before," Wilkinson said. "It's a family now, a tight family that benefits from having guys from around the world adding their piece. It's very easy for that situation to become a negative. For it to become a positive you need guys with the right values. People are happy to resume responsibility and learn."

Wilkinson recently signed a new one-year contract after enjoying a superb 2012-13 season and would have stood a good chance of Lions selection but for Toulon's likely involvement in the Top 14 play-offs.

"I have an issue with the idea of form. I'm just trying to do something good for the team and trying to get better and better," the 33-year-old said.

"If I feel like I'm on the path to doing that then I feel like I'm on the path to doing the right thing. I'm excited about getting up each morning and attacking each day. I'm excited about being able to play more rugby. That for me is the best way to get a gauge on how I'm feeling - the excitement is there. If it's there I know I'm in the right place."

Former London Irish openside Steffon Armitage has been demoted to the Toulon bench, but his fellow England internationals Delon Armitage, Andrew Sheridan and Nick Kennedy have made the starting XV.

It will be Saracens' second appearance in the Heineken Cup semi-finals and the first for Toulon.

The last time a club from the Aviva Premiership won the competition was in 2007 when Wasps beat Leicester in the only all-English final. It has been lean pickings since with the salary cap and demands of the domestic league hamstringing attempts to break Ireland's dominance, but wing David Strettle feels no obligation to reverse the decline on nationality grounds.

"Some players might feel as though they need to do this for the Premiership, but personally I don't," Strettle said. "Whether an English team won it last year or 20 years ago, it makes no difference to me. It's about what's happening now, I'm a Saracens player and we want to win for this team and this club."

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