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AP

Toulon's flyhalf and Captain Jonny Wilkinson of Britain looks on during a training session on the eve of the France Top 14 Rugby final Toulon vs Castres at the Stade France in Saint Denis, north of Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Paris - Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson will take to the field in the Top 14 final against Castres on Saturday for the final match of his professional career, but he insists he's had lots of practice for this moment.

The former England fly-half, who famously kicked the last-gasp winning drop goal against Australia to hand his country their only World Cup victory in 2003, says he's always played every rugby match as if it was his last.

So for that moment to finally arrive, Wilkinson says it all feels normal.

“It's a relatively simple mindset and everything because it's been the same throughout my career because I've always only ever worried about and concerned myself with the game that's coming,” he said.

“Whilst you're still playing, it's only the next game (that counts) so immediately after the Heineken Cup final we all recognised that we'll all be judged on this next one.

“For me personally coming to the end of a career, it's emotional but it doesn't change anything.

“I've deliberately kept it that way, kept it simple and enjoyed the fact that the words of saying 'you play every game like it's your last' will be true this time.”

Fresh from a second successive European Cup triumph following last weekend's 23-6 win over Saracens in the Cardiff final, Wilkinson admits he is unsure of how he will feel once the curtain does come down on his illustrious career.

“It's a difficult one... there's a certain degree of stress that comes with (finals) and you start to look towards the end of it and saying 'god it's going to be nice to have a little break when it's done'.

“But that tends to be in the context of knowing that in early July you're going to be back in there and doing it all again.

“Your holidays only feel so good because you know you're getting away from something you have to come back to.

“So that's the unknown for me, that's the difficult bit: not really knowing if I'm looking forward to it.”

While Wilkinson has mixed emotions, for his team-mate and compatriot Steffon Armitage, the new European player of the year, it is an exhilarating moment.

“For me personally as an Englishmen, to play alongside Jonny Wilkinson Ä in 2003 I was young enough that I hadn't even started my professional career yet.

“I watched him land that drop goal in the final and to be here now with him, it's a thing that even sometimes now I pinch myself to see if it's true that I'm really with him.

“Jonny's a hero of mine, he's a legend and he will stay like that and finish like that, and we want it to finish well for him.”

Even Toulon head coach Bernard Laporte, the former France coach, admits he feels privileged to have coached Wilkinson.

“For eight years when we spoke about Jonny Wilkinson it was always with fear,” he said.

“Talking about him day and night and finding him with the England team, the thing I prefer now is that he climbs into the same bus as me.

“Yes, it was an honour to train him because, first of all, the night of the semi-final we (France) lost against them (England) in 2007 (at the World Cup), if you'd said 'one day you'll coach Jonny Wilkinson' I'd have said 'no, I'm done, I doubt it'.

“So it's a privilege. The reason I came back into rugby was because of guys like that.

“It's clear, to say you'll train Jonny Wilkinson or Bakkies Botha, you'll train guys that for eight years you've battled against, who were targets - and when I say targets I mean players you spoke about a lot because they were the best players in the other team.

“It's obvious for me it's been a great honour but most of all for the guys who've played alongside him because nothing replaces playing.”

Sapa-AFP


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