Clermont Auvergne 15-16 Toulon, Heineken Cup Final
Start carving the statue
Graham Jenkins at the Aviva Stadium
May 18, 2013
Jonny Wilkinson shows off the Heineken Cup trophy following his side's dramatic victory over Clermont Auvergne in Dublin © Getty Images
Toulon's deep-pocketed owner Mourad Boudjellal may have only been joking when he recently spoke of a statue to honour a certain Jonny Wilkinson but following his latest crowd-pleasing showing the Rouge et Noir faithful have probably set about mining the granite from which a permanent monument to their hero will be carved.
The veteran playmaker repaid the faith of Boudjellal and the loyal support of a rugby-mad town that worships him by steering Toulon to the Heineken Cup crown. The club with the deepest pockets in Europe finally has the title to match that ambition thanks largely to the inspirational qualities of their captain.
His unstinting quest for excellence continues to drive him and those lucky enough to play alongside him to great heights. "Always be looking for the chance to do something better, never stop trying," goes the speech from former US general George Patton that Wilkinson has drawn on since being introduced to it by long-term mentor Steve Black. It offers a rare insight into the inner-workings of arguably England's greatest player and explains his ability to deliver when it matters most.
That hunger to succeed produced an incredible 17 successful penalty kicks in-a-row during the knock-out stages of this season's Heineken Cup with a couple of drop goals underlining his unrivalled ability when it comes to putting boot to ball in high-pressure situations. Not even the over-officious staff at the Aviva Stadium who denied him the chance to go about his pre-match practice could knock him out of his stride with a local club obliging his need to begin his warm-up a little earlier than most.
As important as Wilkinson's contribution to this contest with his three penalties denying Clermont any breathing room and his pressure contributing to the failure of David Skrela to land what would have been a match-winning drop goal, it was an outstanding team effort that denied their French rivals the glory. Clermont are widely considered the most complete side in the European game and it was always going to take a Herculean effort to shackle them and that is what Toulon produced. Clermont dominated proceedings and claimed an incredible 75% of territory and 68% of possession but had nothing to show for it at the end of an enthralling 80 minutes except their bruised and battered limbs.
Time and time again they failed to make their dominance count with Toulon's defensive qualities coming to the fore - they made 176 tackles to Clermont's 66 - to slam the door and force errors from Clermont. Centre Mathieu Bastareaud's industry was rightfully acknowledged with his 17 momentum-sapping tackles helping to stop Clermont in their tracks and his 47m with what little ball in hand his side had at least giving their opponents some food for thought.
Clermont looked stunned at the final whistle and you can understand why. The result was harsh on Clermont's inspirational captain Aurelien Rougerie in particular who did all he could to ensure it was his side's name that was etched on the sizeable Heineken Cup silverware. A central figure in both of Clermont's tries, his dismissal of a challenge by Wilkinson in the lead up to Brock James' score looked like being symbolic of his side's dominance and the final in general. But Wilkinson and Toulon dusted themselves off before turning the game on its head.
Wilkinson allowed himself a smile as he hoisted the trophy alongside another of the club's greatest servants - former South Africa international Joe van Niekerk - but as his mantra dictates, he did not wallow in what is a rare success on the domestic stage. While his coach Bernard Laporte and team-mate Bastareaud faced the press wearing 'Toulon Champion' T-shirts and winners medals, Wilkinson was dressed in just the shirt of the club he continues to serve with distinction. The celebratory clothing may not have reached Wilkinson in the media circus that followed the final whistle but you sense it is not his way.
The importance of the victory to Wilkinson was evident in his comments that the joy perhaps exceeded that which he felt having kicked England to Rugby World Cup glory in 2003. "This sort of goes beyond [the World Cup], you live in the now," he explained to reporters before emphatically dismissing the latest suggestion he may yet join up with the British & Irish Lions in Australia next month having completed his Top 14 commitments. "This [Toulon] is me...everything I've got goes towards these guys and this team."
That same press conference saw Wilkinson flit from French to English and back again to satisfy the demands of a headline-hungry press in yet another illustration of his outstanding professionalism. Wilkinson remains a class act on and off the field regardless of the language and is well worth every euro that Boudjellal offered him to extend his playing career for one more season. He is not only a role model for every rugby player - be they established internationals or youngsters dreaming of emulating him - but also professional sportsmen in general. The wider sporting public may well lament the retirement of one icon in the form of David Beckham but they should celebrate Wilkinson's perpetual masterclass.
"Never think that you have done enough or that your job is finished," continues Patton and you just know those words will cross Wilkinson's mind sometime in the near future if they have not done so already. The Bouclier de Brennus may well be dream that has fuelled Boudjellal's game-changing investment in Toulon and Top 14 supremacy may also have been Wilkinson's ultimate goal since moving to the Med but you will be hard-pressed to find a Toulon fan who doubts whether their No.10 has done enough for the club already.
Commencer à construire la statue.
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal and coach Bernard Laporte enjoy the moment © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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