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Wilkinson record inspires Toulon

Published 01/05/2015

Toulon are bidding for an unprecedented third straight European crown to
Toulon are bidding for an unprecedented third straight European crown to "uphold" the legacy of Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson can still inspire Toulon to rewrite the European history books this weekend almost a year on from retirement, according to Bernard Laporte.

Toulon boss Laporte hopes the Cote d'Azur side can "enter legend" by claiming an unprecedented third consecutive European title at Twickenham on Saturday.

The former France coach admitted Toulon will bid to "uphold" Wilkinson's legacy in the Champions Cup final clash with Clermont.

World Cup-winner Wilkinson has spent the week with Toulon in his part-time skills coaching role, bidding to guide the French Top 14 title-holders to yet more glory.

"Jonny did bring us a lot, he was part of the players who left last summer and everybody cried," said Laporte.

"He left after two European titles and very few could claim such a performance.

"Jonny is here with us, of course. There is a great motivation to do it for Jonny and uphold what he has done before."

Former England fly-half Wilkinson ended a glittering career by winning the last-ever Heineken Cup and the Top 14 title on successive weekends with Toulon at the end of last season.

The 2003 World Cup winner has moved seamlessly into Toulon's backroom staff, however, balancing his Stade Mayol commitments with a thriving one-to-one personal coaching business.

Laporte said the only way to replace Wilkinson last summer was to assign his myriad roles to three different squad superstars.

World Cup winners Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams and former All Blacks prop and current skipper Carl Hayman will all retire this summer, and Laporte admitted the fight for a third European crown is as much about honouring them as doing justice to Wilkinson's record.

"Jonny would occupy three functions: fly-half, goal-kicker and captain," said Laporte.

"He was exemplary every time and this is why we decided this season to give those three things to three different players.

"Leigh Halfpenny is like Jonny's copy when it comes to kicking, then you have Matt Giteau to run the side from fly-half, and Carl Hayman to lead the team as captain.

"Jonny passed on a lot of seriousness, he was an example for the club but he has passed on that example to the squad now.

"We have a lot of players who still set examples now too, so there will be the same motivation for everyone.

"When you get to this level of rugby you always want to be someone who will mark history, to put your name in the record books.

"That's the motivation: that we would enter legend. But it's not the legend that's driving us, we want to be European champions.

"If we were to win then okay, we will be European champions and we will enter history."

Toulon meet Clermont in a European final for the second time in three years, but Laporte rejected claims the French titans are now the continent's two outstanding teams.

"We don't want to say that the European competition is Clermont-Toulon," he said.

"We've beaten some of the best sides in Europe and that shows that we've climbed up in the last five or six years.

"We don't want to say that there is only Clermont and Toulon in Europe, but we're proud to be here and to be able to challenge the best teams in Europe."

Tournament bosses European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) expect a crowd of 50,000 for Saturday's final, with a host of ticket giveaways boosting the attendance.

Laporte admitted it was "a shame" the final could not be held in France, though Twickenham was selected as a venue last summer.

"I'm not here to fuel controversy, it's a shame our supporters cannot take part in the party," said Laporte.

"The club is part of their life and the fact they cannot come because it's too far and too expensive is a shame.

"Of course they could have come if it was in Paris or Lyon, and really we're sad for that."

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