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Warmest of farewells to Johann Muller, Brian O'Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson

Rugby is losing three great players this season in Johann Muller, Brian O'Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson.

And they will be hard to replace, for in addition to having been outstanding performers on the pitch, the example they have provided as role models and ambassadors off it has been well-nigh exemplary.

The first of the trio to exit was Ulster captain Muller, whose career ended when his side lost to Leinster in Saturday night's PRO12 semi-final at the RDS.

This Saturday night will see the curtain come down on Wilkinson, the man whose last-gasp drop-goal saw England pip Australia to the World Cup in 2003.

Naturally left-footed, the genius number 10 dropped that goal with his right. Class.

Unlike Muller, Toulon captain Wilkinson has the chance to exit the stage for the last time carrying a trophy.

The expensively assembled French giants are in their fourth European final in five seasons – Amlin Challenge Cup in 2010 and 2012 and Heineken Cup in 2013.

Having lost those two Amlin Cup finals, Toulon got it right at the third time of asking – and in the big one.

They beat ASM Clermont Auvergne 16-15 in last May's Heineken Cup final at the Aviva Stadium where their captain, Wilkinson, kicked three penalties and a conversion.

If Toulon beat Ulsterman Mark McCall's Saracens on Saturday in Cardiff, they will become only the third club in Heineken Cup history to successfully defend their title, joining Leicester (2001 and 2002) and Leinster (2011 and 2012).

And a Toulon victory would see Wilkinson join Leicester's Martin Johnson, Toulouse's Fabien Pelous and Leinster's Leo Cullen as a captain who lifted the trophy more than once.

On May 31, the last line of the final chapter of O'Driscoll's remarkable story will be penned.

Like Wilkinson, he too has the chance to win one last trophy before retiring.

Assuming he is fit, he will line out for Leinster against Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12 decider at the RDS.

Muller, Wilkinson and O'Driscoll have been superb adverts for their game.

While silverware eluded Muller in his four years with Ulster, he would not begrudge the other two the chance to leave the pitch for the last time as a winner.

Adieu to three greats. Thanks for the memories.

Belfast Telegraph

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