Wilkinson targets euro glory
April 27, 2012
Jonny Wilkinson will be hoping to steer Toulon past Stade Francais in Friday night's semi-final showdown © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson is determined to end his 15-year European drought by steering Toulon to this season's Amlin Challenge Cup crown.
Wilkinson, whose side face a semi-final clash with Top 14 rivals Stade Francais at the Stade Mayol tonight, is excited by the prospect of erasing the memory of his side's agonising defeat to Cardiff Blues in the competition finale two years ago and the chance to clinch the silverware on home soil with the Twickenham Stoop set to play host to the showpiece event.
"There are still a few of us left in the Toulon squad who remember the bitter disappointment of losing to Cardiff Blues in our own back-yard," Wilkinson told the Daily Mirror. "The fact that defeat came a week after we had lost in the semi-finals of the French Championship just made it even worse - and me more determined than ever.
"It would be great to go back to England, where my home is, and play in a major final," he added. "The Stoop is a great venue right next door to a very special place where I have played a lot of my rugby."
Toulon won 34-8 at home in this season's Top 14 but Stade Francais held them to a 19-19 draw in the return fixture in Round 18. Their latest meeting will feature an intriguing match-up in the midfield channel where Toulon's Matt Giteau will face former Wallabies team-mate George Smith who will line up in the unfamiliar position of inside centre.
Stade Francais, who are attempting to go one better than last season when they were beaten in the final by Harlequins, are under no illusions about the task facing his side. "Toulon is probably one of the hardest places to go to in France win and while obviously we play them in the Top 14 and know quite a bit about them we know this Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final is certainly going to be a big ask for us," said assistant coach Chris Whitaker, a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster in 2009.
"But it is definitely a game we want to win and definitely a game we are really focusing on winning because winning the Amlin gives you the opportunity to play in the next Heineken Cup. And after going so close last year against Harlequins only to lose 19-18 we would love to win the tournament this year."
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