Wilkinson set for first euro final
May 3, 2010
Wilkinson lines up a kick during his side's semi-final victory over Connacht © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson will play in his first European rugby final after 13 years of trying when Toulon face Cardiff Blues at Marseille's Stade Velodrome for the European Challenge Cup.
Wilkinson, who lost three Challenge Cup semi-finals at Newcastle, scored 14 points in Toulon's 19-12 victory over Connacht on Friday night. The big-spending French outfit were joined in the final by Dai Young's Blues, who defied miserable conditions and a battling Wasps side to win 15-12 at Adams Park last night.
Wilkinson has not won a club trophy since Newcastle lifted the Tetleys Bitter Cup in 2001 - he was water-carrier when the Falcons won it again in 2004 - but the England fly-half is now on course for a league and Challenge Cup double. Toulon's victory over Connacht came a week after they qualified for the Top 14 semi-finals by finishing second in the championship.
"Our expectations were to finish sixth in the Top 14, to qualify for the Heineken Cup, and to get to the quarter-finals of this competition," said Toulon coach Philippe Saint-Andre. "We are over our targets. It is fantastic and it is important to see we can be good in two competitions. I am very excited for the final in Marseille, which is very close to our home. It will be a fantastic atmosphere and if we can win a trophy for Toulon it would be fantastic."
Playing at the Stade Velodrome will be a significant advantage for Toulon, who have already packed out the 60,000 capacity stadium for league matches this season. But after fending off a battling Wasps side, Young is convinced the Blues have proven they have the mettle to win on the road.
"We knew after the other result that the final would be in France so if we are going to win this we will have done it the hard way," he said. "We have had to go and win at Newcastle, then Wasps and now Toulon. "But this team have the self belief and mental toughness to go to places and win."
The Blues reached their first European final since the inaugural Heineken Cup in 1996 with tries from Leigh Halfpenny and Gethin Jenkins plus eight points from Ben Blair. Wasps fly-half Dave Walder kicked 15 points to keep the Guinness Premiership side in touch throughout - but he could not land the vital 77th-minute kick that would have taken the match into extra-time.
The Blues had to play the last 10 minutes with 14 men but held out to became Wales' first finalists in any European competition since Caerphilly in the 2003 Parker Pen Shield. Xavier Rush, the former New Zealand international who joins Ulster this summer, was the Blues' inspiration.
"Xavier was outstanding," said Young. "He got us on the front foot, which was always going to be the most important thing on a day like this. Obviously we would have preferred a dry track because we have got the players to move the ball - but to win any competition you have to have a B-game as well as your A-game.
"Whichever team got going forward would control the game and Xavier did that for us. He will be very difficult to replace. The players deserve all the credit they get. It could have gone either way at the end but I think we played most of the rugby."
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