Posts Tagged ‘Jonny Wilkinson’

Saturday May 24, 12 PM Eastern – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

The Heineken Cup will be replaced by the new European Rugby Champions Cup next season, so this match is the last hurrah for a great competition.

Steve Borthwick has recovered sufficiently from a chest injury to captain Saracens, which means an interesting storyline is maintained – he and Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson, both of whom will retire at the end of the season, are also both former England captains. While Wilkinson is revered as an England legend, having kicked the drop goal that won the 2003 World Cup Final, Borthwick is associated with Martin Johnson’s ill-fated reign, a darker passage of English rugby history. Injuries permitting, Borthwick and Wilkinson will also play in their respective domestic finals next weekend, but first these proud warriors seek the ultimate accolade in European club rugby.

There will also be the subplot of the flyhalf battle: Wilkinson v Owen Farrell – master v apprentice. Who can forget last year’s Heineken Cup semifinal, when Farrell was slightly late charging down Wilkinson’s drop goal attempt? As the two lay on the ground, watching the ball flying inevitably through the posts, securing victory for Toulon, Wilkinson gave the younger man a consoling pat on the back.  Will this year be Farrell’s time?

The battle of the back rows will also be fascinating. Saracens’ is a key part of their vaunted “wolfpack” defense – Jacques Burger is an elite tackling machine, having made 27 and missed none in the semifinal thrashing of Clermont. (He also made 36 in a game against Exeter earlier this year.)  Toulon’s is led by Steffon Armitage, who has been in spectacular form both at the breakdown and with ball in hand. Armitage has not been considered for England selection since moving to France, and will be keen to show his skills against the incumbent England number 8, Billy Vunipola. Vunipola is known for his powerful running, but, still just 21 years old, continues to develop an impressive all-round game.  And all this is without mentioning the 3 other world-class players who will comprise the two back rows – Saracens’ Kelly Brown, and Toulon’s Juan Smith and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe – who have 188 international caps between them.

Toulon are slightly favored to repeat as champions, but I will go for Saracens by 3

Below, extended highlights from last year’s semifinal meeting between these two teams: