England legend Jonny Wilkinson played a starring role in his final match as a professional as Toulon added the French Top 14 title to their European crown with an 18-10 victory over holders Castres on Saturday.
— Tom May (@TomMay1) May 31, 2014
.@JonnyWilkinson ends his career feted by 80,000 fans and mobbed by media at the Stade de France. Signs off in fluent French. Quite an exit.
— Piers Newbery (@piersnewbery) May 31, 2014
Wilkinson bowed out from a stunning career not only as a winner but as the most influential player on the pitch, landing Toulon’s first 15 points, including a trademark drop goal.
And the French did not miss the opportunity to pay tribute to the England legend, playing God Save the Queen over the tannoy after the final whistle.
“It’s impossible, all I can do is thank everyone in the group, the coaches, it’s incredible to explain, it’s just a pleasure,” Wilkinson said.
“I’ll keep following the Top 14 because it has changed my life.
“I’ve spent half my life with a ball, it’s going to be a huge shock after rugby but I’ll have a lot of good memories with the whole of the team here.”
In truth, the match itself wasn’t a great spectacle but neither Toulon, who won their first Bouclier de Brennus since 1992, nor Wilkinson will care too much as they took revenge on Castres for their defeat in last year’s final.
And having added two European crowns and a French title in his final two seasons as a professional, Wilkinson will no doubt be delighted with his glorious farewell to the sport he graced with such distinction.
This final had been more billed as Wilkinson’s retirement than Toulon’s revenge mission and the England legend didn’t disappoint.
He took first blood in the eighth minute with a penalty after Toulon had bulldozed up to the Castres line, forcing a desperate infringement from the champions.
But on 11 minutes, Scot Max Evans ran almost the length of the field to score a stunning try and turn the final Castres’ way.
Castres had their tails up and suddenly started playing with freedom and invention, but Toulon soon started to turn the screw.
The European champions put pressure on at the scrum and won a penalty, which Wilkinson converted.
Almost immediately, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe came in at the side of a ruck and Kockott kicked Castres into a 10-6 lead on 29 minutes.
Once again Toulon cranked up the pressure at the scrum and Wilkinson closed the gap to one point from the tee.
The biggest cheer of the half then greeted the former England fly-half as he set up a good attacking position with a clever kick in behind a high Castres line before landing a drop-goal with his right foot on 35 minutes.
Shades of the 2003 World Cup final and a Wilkinson speciality in his final match. It was party time.
Things got better for Toulon as despite Australian Matt Giteau being harshly pinged for a high tackle, Kockott slipped on his run up and put the penalty wide before missing with a long-range effort on the stroke of half-time.
Wilkinson was to the fore again on 54 minutes as he landed a penalty from wide out on the right touchline after Castres collapsed a maul.
With seven minutes left, Castres gave away a penalty for not releasing and Wilkinson handed over kicking duties to Armitage who scored the final points of the match.