Rugby - Perfectionist Wilkinson ready to relax, nearly

Jonny Wilkinson almost sounded relaxed on Saturday after helping Toulon retain the Heineken Cup with a 23-6 win over Saracens but, ever the perfectionist, the ex-England fly-half will not want to retire with the job half done.

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Rugby - Perfectionist Wilkinson ready to relax, nearly
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Toulon's captain Jonny Wilkinson (R) prepares to kick a conversion after a try during the Heineken Cup final rugby union match against Saracens at the Millennium Stadium (Reuters)

A year ago Toulon won the trophy for the first time but failed to complete the double when they lost to Castres in the French Top 14 final. They face the same rivals in the same situation next week - the last game of Wilkinson's storied career.

While the fireworks flashed and the fans celebrated in the Millennium Stadium after a well-deserved victory on Saturday, Wilkinson's attention was already drifting to next weekend.

"It's a privilege to have been part of that game and to have won it, I couldn't have asked for more," said Wilkinson who set up tries for Matt Giteau and Juan Smith, converted both from the touchline and added two penalties and a drop goal.

"It's the end of a long journey but my mind is already starting to tick towards that moment next week.

"Against a team like Saracens you can't even consider thinking beyond what's in front of you. You play like there is no tomorrow. You play like it is everything you have got and if that means some guys don't make it through to next week, well that's why you have a squad."

Toulon certainly have that, with the moneybags club cherry-picking talent from all over the world, but they also have a togetherness and will to win that flies in the face of some critics who felt too many players were arriving in the South of France with more of an eye on their pension pot than the trophy cabinet.

Wilkinson was never remotely likely to be included in such a group, if there ever was one, and has relished every moment since his move from Newcastle five years ago.

Having finally shaken off the injury curse that cost him so many England caps over the years, Wilkinson has been the brightest of a team of superstars.

Although he plays every training match with the same intensity as a World Cup final, Wilkinson's ability to perform at his best in the biggest games has helped Toulon make the step up to Europe's elite as they now join Leicester and Leinster as the only teams to win back-to-back Heineken Cups.

In Toulon's six Heineken Cup knockout round games in the last two seasons, Wilkinson, astonishingly, missed only one of 30 kicks at goal. Even so, the world's greatest worrier still questions his own value.

"I'm kind of wondering why I'm still playing at this club when you've got Frederic Michelak and Matt Giteau playing that well, so in a way I know it's time to leave - it's in good hands," he said when pressed by journalists to face up to his impending retirement.

"I'd like to take a bit of time out to realise where I am after all this but I also want to be with this team.

"I've got so many friends there who I want to see reach their potential - I want to see this club reach its potential - so that's huge for me but maybe it's also the opportunity to just relax for a bit.

"It's not do or die from now on. I have lived 17 years where every weekend your life hangs in the balance.

"It might be nice now that that's no longer the case. I won't wake up on Saturday morning and have that horrible feeling in my stomach and have to worry about the what-ifs."

Apart, of course, from next Saturday.

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