Heineken Cup
Wilkinson escapes World Cup demons
ESPN Staff
May 20, 2013
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson shows off the Heineken Cup, Clermont Auvergne v Toulon, Heineken Cup Final, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, May 18, 2013
Jonny Wilkinson steered Toulon to a maiden Heineken Cup crown in Dublin on Saturday © Getty Images

Jonny Wilkinson has spoken of his relief at emerging from the shadow of England's Rugby World Cup triumph following Toulon's Heineken Cup triumph over Clermont Auvergne on Saturday.

Wilkinson capped an outstanding season by steering Toulon to a dramatic 16-15 victory over their French rivals at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and has since been honoured with the European Player of the Year award.

The 33-year-old insists that the joy he feels at his side's long-awaited title is matched by a sense of relief that he can now also enjoy his World Cup achievement like never before. "It feels good," Wilkinson told PA Sport. "The 2003 World Cup was great but afterwards it felt like something that was almost battling me every time I stepped on the field. It felt like it was trying to show me up.

"I was part of a great England team. I sat there thinking that it was the worst feeling in the world. Instead of thinking 'we've won it, it's done and it's a great thing to celebrate' - which is what I feel more about this now - at the time I almost hated it.

"I was worrying that I had topped out at 24 and that was it. I was always so worried that it was going to be the last thing. I said 'I can't let this be the last thing, I don't want to play under the shadow of that'.

"Before the injuries I always felt I'd been building towards something. Then a new door opened at Toulon and suddenly I'm in a final and I've written another chapter. All of a sudden you can actually start to appreciate the World Cup in a way I've never done. This campaign is done and I can actually enjoy it and appreciate it. I don't have to start to compete with it."

Ahead of his side's title showdown with Clermont, Wilkinson was wondering whether he had done the right thing by recently signing a new one-year deal with Toulon but unsurprisingly those doubts have now disappeared. "I love the idea of next year," he said. "Before the game I'm thinking 'I've got no more in me, how much more of this can I do?' You put so much into the build-up it becomes the last game you will ever play. It is only now, when you've played, had a shower, you think 'I can do this again'."

The season is not yet over for Toulon who are chasing a rare league and cup double. Wilkinson's side will tackle Toulouse in the Top 14 semi-finals on Friday night with the winner set to take on either Clermont or Castres for the Bouclier de Brennus in Paris on June 1.

England captain Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson pose with the Rugby World Cup following their 2003 triumph © Getty Images
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