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Clermont Auvergne 15-16 Toulon, Heineken Cup Final
Wilkinson: 'This rivals winning the World Cup'
ESPN Staff
May 18, 2013
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson goes for the posts, Clermont Auvergne v Toulon, Heineken Cup Final, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, May 18, 2013
Jonny Wilkinson's metronomic boot helped Toulon to their triumph © PA Photos
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Jonny Wilkinson insists his delight at Toulon's Heineken Cup is greater than that which he felt having kicked England to Rugby World Cup glory in 2003.

Wilkinson led Toulon to a sensational 16-15 victory over Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, kicking three penalties and the decisive conversion following Delon Armitage's try.

European club rugby's greatest prize looked headed for their Top 14 rivals following tries from Napolioni Nalaga and Brock James Toulon clawed their way back into the contest courtesy of Wilkinson's boot. Armitage's score put them in reach of an unlikely victory and Wilkinson's conversion saw them home only after some desperate defence denied Clermont replacement David Skrela a late drop goal.

"It is right up there," Wilkinson said. "In fact, it goes beyond (winning the World Cup) because life is in the now, it is not in the past. The next thing you search for, the next goal you set life just gets better and better if you are in a club as good as this.

"It has been hugely important (to win this). You ask yourselves the questions all the time whether you still merit being there, whether you still deserve to be in teams like this. Moments like this give you that opportunity to look at it and realise what an amazing opportunity we all have."

Wilkinson shunned an offer to tour with the British & Irish Lions this summer in favour of leading Toulon's quest for both Heineken Cup and Top 14 glory and he insisted the manner of tonight's victory summed up why he had put is club first.

"I had a chat with Warren Gatland and said 'this is me now' and because of the stage of my career he fully understood," Wilkinson said. "These games, I don't know how many tackles we made today and I need to be 100 per cent in there just to survive. We have played quarter-final, semi-final, final and you fight to stick in there to earn every point. That is what makes it feel so good at the end."

With Toulon facing Toulouse in the Top 14 semi-final next weekend, Wilkinson would not even discuss the prospect of him joining up with the Lions as a late replacement or addition to the squad. "It is clear-cut in my head. Everything I have got is going towards these guys," he said. "It is difficult to think about anything other than we could have two more games left."

Bastareaud, who was named man of the match, was in tears on the final whistle and he was proud to have delivered a first major trophy to Toulon in 21 years. "It is amazing. We play with our heart for this, for the supporters. I think there will be a big party in Toulon," he said.

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte began to wonder whether there was a route back into the game after Clermont had raced into a 15-6 lead. "You are asking yourself questions but defensively we never gave up," Laporte said. "Our first feeling is tremendous joy and I would like to congratulate our players. I am proud of them.

"Before we think about trying to do the (Europe and Top 14) double we will think about what just happened. It is about keeping our feet on the ground. Of course, we enjoy this but then on Monday we have to focus on the semi-final."

Toulon's try-scoring hero Delon Armitage was adamant Wilkinson was never going to miss the conversion that secured the Top 14 side's maiden Heineken Cup title. Armitage's try, which came following good work from Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, in the 63rd minute of the match swung the game back in Toulon's favour after they at one stage trailed 15-6. But his five-pointer reduced the deficit to 15-14 needing Wilkinson to convert the try from the touchline to give them the lead - a feat he managed with ease.

Toulon held on for the win and Armitage was quick to praise the role of Wilkinson in their triumph. "When I called for the ball I expected Sivivatu to be there but he wasn't," Armitage said. "The moment it was popped up to me I thought this is my opportunity - if I can get the try we are back in the game.

"When I got to the 22 I looked around and knew I was in and then I thought I had to try and get as close to the posts as possible for the conversion. However, that was when I thought we have got Jonny - he will get it over from anywhere. We worked hard on our fitness this week and we knew that if we defended well for the first hour in the last 20 we could show our skills and Jonny put us in the right areas for that to happen."

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