Saracens 12-24 Toulon, Heineken Cup semi-final
Wilkinson plays down Lions hopes
April 28, 2013
Saracens' Owen Farrell and Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson watch the latter's drop goal go over the posts © PA Photos
Jonny Wilkinson has played down his chances of being picked by the British & Irish Lions for the forthcoming tour to Australia despite delivering a masterclass to propel Toulon to a 24-12 victory over Saracens in their Heineken Cup semi-final clash at Twickenham on Sunday.
Wilkinson kicked seven penalties and a late drop-goal to set up an all-French finale against Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on May 18. The 33-year-old rolled back the years in front of Lions head coach Warren Gatland but has urged him to reward the latest generation of playmakers when he announces his squad on Tuesday morning.
"I'm prone to feeling great after a day like today but after a match like last weekend's [Top 14 defeat to Grenoble that he missed] I felt as though I'd let the boys down," he said. "I think about tearing up my contract for next year and things like that. It's what goes through my head.
"I just play and play and no-one can tell you if you're doing great or not. Am I doing enough right now? The Lions is difficult for me because it's not at all that I wouldn't consider it - it would be fabulous. It's up there with the most amazing experiences you can get in rugby. But I watch guys like Owen Farrell, Toby Flood, Dan Biggar and Jonathan Sexton and it is them who are driving rugby forward. Perhaps they should be the ones driving this tour forward as well."
Wilkinson has revealed he apologised to his Saracens rival Owen Farrell after landing a 'lucky' drop goal that proved pivotal in a contest dominated by the boot. Wilkinson slotted a superb left-footed drop goal in the closing moments of the game while under immense pressure from Farrell. The two players fell to the ground together and watched the ball sail over the posts before Wilkinson consoled the England No.10 with a pat on the back.
Following his side's victory, the Toulon skipper revealed what was said in his exchange with Farrell. "I have an immense amount of respect for Owen Farrell - he is fantastic for English rugby," he said. "For me, being on the sidelines and watching him and Toby Flood playing for England is great. He put in a huge hit on me when I dropped the goal. We had a few words on the floor and I apologised to him for being a bit lucky."
Reflecting on his eye-catching return to English rugby's HQ, Wilkinson typically played down his own efforts - including a 21-point haul - and heaped praise on his side. "This is a very special moment. It's quite special to be at Twickenham with the team and their willingness to win," he said. "It's a privilege to come back here as captain of this team. Today I had the privilege to lead the team and to do that at Twickenham was superb.
"But I'm beginning to hate the positive things said about me, because it is the team who tackle and play for the 80 minutes. Yes I kick a penalty here and there and a drop-goal, but this is a fantastic team.
"I've sat and watched Heineken Cup finals throughout my career, watching the big guys like Leicester, Wasps and Toulouse contest them and always wondered what it would be like to play in one. It's one hell of a moment and one we really need to try and make the most of."
Looking forward to his side's showdown with Clermont, who like Toulon are also challenging for Top 14 honours, Wilkinson said: "Two French teams in the final in Dublin will be interesting. Clermont are a hell of a team and we know they are at the top of their game. It all means we have work to do. We've got to ask ourselves some serious questions and come back fighting for the final. We have still got a game to go before the final, but we will be excited about going to Dublin."
Saracens boss Mark McCall was also full of praise for Wilkinson. "Jonny's an icon of rugby but the most impressive thing about him is that, having had a stellar start to his career, he then had three or four very difficult years when he was injured lots," he said. "But at 33 he's showing his best rugby and it shows a brilliant and professional mentality. He always wants to improve."
However, he was not happy about referee Alain Rolland's handling of the game. "It will be interesting to find out how many penalties were given against the attacking side today. It seemed like a lot," he said. "When you have that kind of game where the defensive team is rewarded and the attacking team isn't, having the ball is of little value and you get a game where the neutral comes along and sees no tries and hardly any chances. If that's the way the game's going to be refereed, that's the type of game you'll get."
McCall has also vowed that his side will learn from their latest euro agony - having exited at the hands of Clermont in the quarter-finals last year. "It was a really close game. I know that a 12 point gap seems it was comfortable enough for Toulon. But it wasn't," said McCall. "We did a lot of things well, but it just wasn't quite enough. We had a few chances, but we failed to convert them.
"There were lots of penalties against the attacking team and that's why you didn't see any tries. They hoofed the ball into our half and waited for us to make mistakes. When it was a three and six point game there was nothing in it and we put them under a lot of pressure. We were well beaten by Clermont in last season's quarter-final, but I didn't feel that this time.
"There is growth and progress in this team. History says that you have to earn your spurs in this competition, just as Clermont have done. We have reached a quarter-final and now a semi-final and, hopefully, we can come back next year even stronger."
Saracens still lead the Aviva Premiership and are assured of a home semi-final in the play-offs. "The season is far from over for us," he added.
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson consoles Saracens' Owen Farrell © PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.