Heineken Cup final: Unhappy ending unthinkable for Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson
Last Updated: 24/05/14 12:01pm
Jonny Wilkinson will leave everything on the field in Toulon’s bid to retain the Heineken Cup against Saracens at the Millennium Stadium.
Saturday’s showdown in Cardiff will be Wilkinson’s final appearance on British soil and his penultimate professional match as he bows out with successive finals and a potential European and Top 14 double.
Wilkinson’s career has seen him win the World Cup, Six Nations Championship four times over, the Premiership, the Heineken Cup as well as 91 England caps and six British and Irish Lions caps. But the fly-half still has unfinished business.
Should Toulon prevail, Wilkinson will become only the fourth captain to lift the trophy twice and the former England No 10 is determined to ensure his remarkable career ends on a high.
Wilkinson, who celebrates his 35th birthday on Sunday, announced his retirement earlier this week and he said: "I felt the time had come to say that's that. It is something I felt I had to do. I feel relieved that I have announced it.
"I have always been about the team, for the group to do well. This game is the biggest one as far as I am concerned at the moment. Next week doesn't really exist.
"It simply comes down to the here and now and for the here and now to be a Heineken Cup final is incredible.
"But the thought of leaving the final without a happy ending to this journey is a painful one, so we've got to do everything we can to try to make sure it doesn't end like that.”
Over the course of Wilkinson’s 17-year career there has been a wave of change which the outside-half has successfully adapted to, and the Toulon captain insists there is a need for continual improvement.
"I think everyone plays the game with the aim of trying to leave it in a better place than when you arrived,” he told a packed press conference at the Millennium Stadium.
"I have tried to get better and push my own boundaries, but the guys around me, from what I've seen, I haven't been close to touching the levels or the talent of the guys I've played with, and a lot of the guys I've played against.
"I have been trying to keep up, more than anything, throughout my career, and no more so than at the moment. You do everything you can to get better, but at the end of the day I have been inspired by those around me.
But the thought of leaving the final without a happy ending to this journey is a painful one, so we've got to do everything we can to try to make sure it doesn't end like that.
"You have to be a better team than last year just to keep moving forward, whether that's in the Top 14 or the Heineken Cup. You have to get better, because everyone else is getting better."
Wilkinson also paid tribute to Saracens, his opposite number this weekend Owen Farrell and Saracens skipper Steve Borthwick, who also retires in eight days' time.
"Saracens are very strong, hugely consistent and able to go out there, no matter what the conditions, the day, the situation and come through," he said.
"In order to do well, you need huge understanding, a level of excellence, hard work and mental toughness. You then realise that comes from the individuals and especially from the guys making the decisions.
"Owen Farrell is a younger guy and his ability to do that at this stage in his career is amazing, to be fair. He embodies what is great about this Saracens team.
“I have known Steve for a long time. He's been inspirational. He has never compromised his values, his desires, his drive.
"There is a huge amount to be said about Steve. Underneath it all, it is the strength and values of a man that really count."