Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Wilkinson turns spotlight on Giteau

Jonny Wilkinson slotted home a drop goal, two penalties and two conversions in Toulon's Heineken Cup final win over Saracens
Jonny Wilkinson slotted home a drop goal, two penalties and two conversions in Toulon's Heineken Cup final win over Saracens

Jonny Wilkinson claimed a second consecutive Heineken Cup crown in his final game on British soil on Saturday - but was keen to turn the spotlight on the "incredible" contribution of Matt Giteau in Toulon's victory over Saracens.

World Cup winner Wilkinson landed 13 points with the boot at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium yet felt it was the performance of centre Giteau that was pivotal to the 23-6 win.

The former England fly-half, who turns 35 on Sunday, will end 17 years of top-class rugby with Toulon's Top 14 final against Castres next weekend, and conceded watching Giteau execute a cunningly-disguised chip that yielded a fine try for the Australia playmaker underlined exactly why he will retire this summer.

"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.

"Since he's been here he's done nothing but bring this team up, give them more and make us all better players. I wouldn't survive out there without guys like him, his ability to selflessly do the extra work, take on extra responsibility, make the difficult calls.

"He could say 'that's not my position, that's not my job' but he never does. There have been times during the season where I haven't made the first few kicks, and I've asked him to take the next one and he just steps up and does it.

"He never says anything about it, he just gets on with it, and that's the kind of guy he is."

Wilkinson will move straight into Toulon's backroom staff as kicking and skills coach once he retires this summer.

The nerveless fly-half's haul of points on Saturday afternoon included a trademark drop-goal off his weaker right foot as Toulon retained their European title.

Giteau's stubbed chip caught Alex Goode cold to allow Drew Mitchell to claim the loose ball and return the favour, with the Wallabies midfielder ghosting home for the game's first try.

Juan Smith grabbed the decisive score after the break, with Saracens never able to generate their usual rhythm or power.

Despite a near-unrivalled professional-era career, Wilkinson was once again at pains to shake off the adulation that follows him around the globe.

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

Wilkinson admitted it will be a "pity" not to celebrate Toulon's triumph in style, with Bernard Laporte's team gearing up for Saturday's Top 14 showdown, a repeat of last year's final.

Wilkinson said: " It's a hell of a day, but a great reward for a long journey for this team. And I hope that it can continue for one more week.

"It's an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life: it's a fantastic present.

"It's a pity but we do have to move on very quickly as we have another final to play."

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall backed his team to show the resolve required to shake off the defeat and challenge for the Aviva Premiership title in Saturday's Twickenham final against Northampton.

McCall backed captain Steve Borthwick to face Saints after continued pectoral trouble, and added: "One of the great qualities is our ability to respond to the setbacks. Even if we were playing Newcastle away I would back us to front up, but we're in the Premiership final and I've got no doubt we'll give a good account of ourselves in that too.

"Steve still has an injury, but he's able to play with it, and he'll be able to play next week as well."

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