Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Time is right for Jonny - Lobbe

Jonny Wilkinson, pictured, must be allowed to retire on his own terms, according to team-mate Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe

Toulon must not try to convince Jonny Wilkinson to postpone retirement and chase an unprecedented third consecutive European crown, according to Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

Wilkinson captained Toulon to their second straight Heineken Cup title in Saturday's 23-6 victory over Saracens in Cardiff.

The 35-year-old booted 13 points and had a hand in Matt Giteau's cunning first-half try.

Wilkinson will retire after Saturday's Top 14 final against Castres in Paris, a repeat of last year's French league showpiece, and move into Toulon's back room staff.

No side has ever claimed three European titles on the spin, but Argentina flanker Lobbe said Toulon must resist the temptation to twist Wilkinson's arm into one more season, in a bid to break yet another record.

"Jonny's not someone that will take a decision lightly, if he decides it's the moment to retire, it's definitely the moment to do it," said Lobbe.

"He knows what he's doing; he always knows what he's doing.

"We can't try to make him change his mind, and certainly not for any records or anything like that.

"He always plans every move of his life, for the benefit of the team.

"So if he decides it's the moment to get out, it's because he thinks it's the best thing for the team.

"So we'll always respect and honour that."

Lobbe boasts 56 caps for the Pumas, ranking rightly among the glut of Toulon galacticos, but the 32-year-old will still happily set Wilkinson apart from every other star at the cash-rich Mediterranean club.

"I will go everywhere behind Jonny, everywhere," he said.

"I'm just glad that I had the chance to play with him, at least a minute of rugby, he's an amazing guy.

"Honestly he deserves whatever comes to him.

"He deserves everything, and I could talk about him for 100 hours and we could keep finding stuff that he's done for everyone.

"Spend a week with us in Toulon and you see the amount of work he does for the other players, the amount of time we're chasing and practising kick-offs with him.

"I will never forget that: how he tried to help me improve as a player, I'm just grateful.

"In 30 years when I see Jonny, we'll have a good laugh together."

Lobbe said Wilkinson has provided world sport with one of the greatest ever examples of hard work and selflessness.

"If anyone needs an example of how to behave as a sportsman, whatever the sport, just pick Jonny," he said.

"You need to work hard, and put the body on the line for your team, there's nothing bigger than the team.

"And he's the greatest example of that, ever: the greatest example.

"You believe that rugby has to be like that, and then sometimes you think okay, you can give some special players a concession.

"But no, there's no way talking like that if you don't walk the walk.

"If you don't work hard, whoever you are, you will crash straight into a wall."

Wilkinson typically waived away the praise on his final game on British soil, hailing the contribution of centre Giteau instead, admitting the Wallabies playmaker has proved to be an inspiration at Toulon.

"Matt's individual contributions to the game were incredible, all the way through," said Wilkinson. "He's a damn good player who can just about do everything, and he's the reason why someone like me realises my time is up.

"You look at him doing what he does, and you think that's where the future of this team is. I certainly want to see him flourish, he's been an inspiration to me, and I know he will be to this team in the future

"I wouldn't survive out there without guys like him.

"I've made no secret of the fact I've been over-supported, I've been given way too much respect.

"I've been given too much of an easy life compared to others who have deserved so much more but haven't had it.

"I've tried to keep my feet on the ground, otherwise someone's going to realise I'm a bit of a fraud.

"You're lucky enough to be surrounded by such quality players, and yet it's not these guys around me that get the adulation and applause.

"When guys go out of their way to cheer for you, it's humbling."

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