Belfast Telegraph

Saracens rely on wolf pack to deny Wilkinson a winning farewell

Final clash: England's Owen Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson go head to head in the Toulon player's last game in the United Kingdom
Final clash: England's Owen Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson go head to head in the Toulon player's last game in the United Kingdom

By Andrew Baldock

England star Owen Farrell has hailed World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson's "pretty special" quality ahead of their Heineken Cup final head-to-head in Cardiff.

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Fly-half Farrell makes his first appearance in a European final when Saracens bid to become England's fifth different European champions after Bath, Northampton, Leicester and Wasps.

And Toulon skipper Wilkinson also has huge motivation – his final game in the United Kingdom before retirement and a successful Heineken Cup defence for French rugby's big-spenders.

"He is one of the very few players who have come into the game and set his own standards," said Farrell, speaking at the Millennium Stadium yesterday.

"He has not lived by anybody else's expectations, he has set his own. There are very few people who do that, and there will be very few people who do that in the future.

"When that type of player comes along, it's pretty special. Obviously, everybody knows how special it is because of the career he has had."

If Saracens are to avenge their defeat in last season's Heineken semi-final against Toulon at Twickenham, when playmaker Wilkinson kicked all of his team's points from seven penalties and a drop-goal, Farrell and company will need their famed 'wolf pack' defence to herd Wilkinson out of business.

"The wolf pack is generally a term that we call our defence. The strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf. That's definitely what it comes down to when we talk about our defence and how we operate as a team."

Captain Steve Borthwick has been named in the Saracens team after he suffered a pectoral muscle injury and departed during the second half of double-chasing Saracens' Aviva Premiership play-off victory over Harlequins last weekend.

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall described Borthwick's prospects earlier this week of being fit for the final as 50-50. But Saracens confirmed in a team announcement on Friday that he will line up in his familiar second-row position.

McCall has made just one change from the side that accounted for Quins, with scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth replacing Neil de Kock, who is on the bench.

Wilkinson, meanwhile, leads a team that shows a solitary switch after the Heineken semi-final victory over Munster last month, with South African lock Bakkies Botha taking over from Jocelino Suta.

"It (semi-final against Toulon) feels like a long time ago," Farrell said.

"Since then, we've changed the way we play a little bit, especially attacking-wise, and I think we've become more mature and confident in what we do. There is no other way than to be confident.

"We've got stuck into analysis and made sure that hopefully we are ready for this game. Now it's time to relax and make sure we go into the game with a clear mind."

Belfast Telegraph


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