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PREVIEW-Rugby-Master v apprentice, part II in Heineken final
May 22, 2014 / 10:27 AM / 3 years ago

PREVIEW-Rugby-Master v apprentice, part II in Heineken final

* Wilkinson v Farrell again as Toulon face Saracens

* Both clubs seeking cup doubles

* Saracens captain Borthwick facing fitness fight

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - Neither man will countenance the idea, both being team men through and through, but happenstance dictates that Saturday’s Heineken Cup final focus will be on opposing flyhalves Jonny Wilkinson of Toulon and Saracens’ Owen Farrell.

The match-up is a repeat of last year’s semi-final, when Toulon prevailed and went on to win the trophy for the first time.

Wilkinson kicked all 24 of Toulon’s points in that Twickenham clash, with Farrell landing four penalties in reply. The prone Wilkinson’s consoling pat on the back after Farrell’s fruitless attempt to charge-down the master’s late drop-goal captured their rivalry and respect in an everlasting image.

Twelve months on the two powerhouse teams meet again in the final at Cardiff in a match given an extra resonance by Wilkinson’s confirmation this week that he will retire at the end of the season.

Both clubs have another final on the horizon - Toulon facing Castres in the French Top 14 and Saracens playing Northampton in the Premiership next week - but those domestic issues will be very much on the back burner with European glory at stake.

Toulon are bidding to match Leicester (2001/02) and Leinster (2011/12) by retaining the title while Saracens are in the final for the first time hoping to become the first English winners since Wasps in 2007.

Both teams are packed with world class talent in every department and the physical nature of the clash is likely to be immense.

That applies at flyhalf too where Wilkinson and Farrell pride themselves on their tackling power, but it is likely to be the accuracy of their kicking that makes in the difference in a game likely to be close right to the wire.

Wilkinson, who turns 35 on Sunday, is as efficient as ever and has the ability to raise his game - or simply control his emotions - in the big games.

In the five “knockout” rounds of last year and this year’s Heineken Cups, England’s 2003 World Cup-winner has missed one of his 26 kicks at goal, while he is the leading points scorer in the competition this season with 100.

As he enters the final days of his remarkable career he is preparing in the same way as he did when making his England debut as an 18-year-old and laughs off any concept that a fairy-tale ending is pre-ordained.

”I don’t believe in destiny, only the notion that you get out what you put in,“ he said this week. ”All you can do is give 100 percent of yourself, to prepare with 100 percent focus and then to deal with all those pivotal moments in a match. The outcome will follow.

”That is how I will prepare for the Saracens match. The same as all the other matches. Not one of them is more important than the other.

“They all demand that you give wholly of yourself and take yourself beyond where you normally are. It is about having the right sort of values, of having respect for your adversary as well as for your team mates.”

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These are values that Farrell, 22, has had hammered into him since boyhood by his father Andy, captain of Wigan and Britain’s rugby league team, and that he has carried proudly into his own union career as he has stepped into Wilkinson shoes as England’s number 10.

Farrell has also never taken a backward step and, though he is relishing Saturday’s showdown, he too refuses to buy into the concept of the flyhalf battle being key.

“Jonny is definitely one of, if not the best ever but you can’t put it into one-on-one battles,” he said.

“He is obviously big in the way they play and controlling the game so we will have to be ready for that as a team. It is about having a joined-up game.”

Saracens certainly have that this season, having added more of a cutting edge to their fearsome defence and physical work, and with England winger Chris Ashton, this season’s Heineken Cup top try-scorer with 11, they have the ideal man to finish off their improving all-court game.

The heartbeat of the team, however, is lock Steve Borthwick, and all associated with Saracens are hoping the 34-year-old former England captain can overcome a bad chest muscle injury in time to play on Saturday as he too is retiring at the end of the season.

“We’re all desperately hoping he plays,” said the club’s director of rugby Mark McCall.

“We’ve said on many occasions just how wonderful he’s been as a leader of this club and no player deserves to play in these games more than Steve.” (Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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