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Wilkinson v Farrell

27th April 2013 08:26

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THE BACK OF JONNY WILKINSON

Pivotal figure: Jonny Wilkinson

England's past, present and future will be on show when fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson and Owen Farrell face off in Sunday's European Cup semi-final between Toulon and Saracens at Twickenham.

Farrell was only 11-years-old when Wilkinson kicked the decisive drop-goal in England's World Cup Final win against Australia in 2003.

But the Saracens star now finds himself wearing the England number 10 shirt that Wilkinson wore with such distinction in 91 Tests before retiring from national service two years ago.

"Jonny is someone I respect massively. He set the standard and pushed the bar right up as far as fly-halves are concerned," said Farrell.

"And he's still doing that today, not just by the way he is on the field but by the way he is off it as well.

"He's an unbelievable player who works so hard to get to where he needs to be. Everyone wants to follow in his footsteps.

"Not only does he control the game and everyone knows about the work he puts into his kicking, but he smashes people as well.

"He gets stuck in and puts his hands up for the team. A lot of people respect him for that."

Farrell's committed approach to rugby has long been compared to that of Wilkinson - and it was a comparison England's record points scorer was happy to endorse on Friday.

"I had the good fortune to meet Owen at a young age at the 2007 World Cup. I saw even at that young age that he had what I had - I realised he had 10 years to play with it," Wilkinson recalled.

"It's great to see someone who covers every area. He steps up and kicks a goal, then makes a tackle and then takes responsibility to make a call."

The 33-year-old made 42 appearances for England at Twickenham, winning on 36 occasions, and also played there three times for former club Newcastle.

"What Twickenham has represented has been phenomenal, I have some great memories here," said Wilkinson .

"I've enjoyed every second of it and with the guys I've had the opportunity to play with here.

"It's not a case of saying this could be my last match at Twickenham, it's more a case of wanting to make the most of the occasion and give it everything we have.

"It's a really special place to be. It's unique and playing here isn't something that happens very much."

The similarities between Farrell and Wilkinson also extend to their respective clubs.

In the early years of professional rugby union, Saracens - then as now bankrolled by businessman Nigel Wray - became known for signing such leading players as Australia's Michael Lynagh, France's Philippe Sella and South Africa great Francois Pienaar.

That led to charges they were a 'team of stars, not a star team' and it wasn't until 2011 they were crowned champions of England for the first time.

Toulon, who like Saracens are bidding for a maiden European Cup crown, now face the same accusations with the wealth of owner Mourad Boudjellal, who made his fortunes in comics, helping the French side sign the likes of Wilkinson, New Zealand's Carl Hayman and South Afica's Danie Rossouw.

However, it has been 20 years since Toulon won a trophy and last season they were beaten in the final of both France's Top 14 domestic championship and the European Challenge Cup.

"There is this fantastic team spirit at Toulon, which I've never felt before," said Wilkinson.

"It's a family now, a tight family that benefits from having guys from around the world adding their piece.

"It's very easy for that situation to become a negative. For it to become a positive you need guys with the right values. People are happy to resume responsibility and learn."

Wilkinson's chances of being involved in the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia this June appear remote due to his Top 14 commitments with Toulon, but the two-time tourist would welcome the opportunity to travel down under.

The squad is announced on Tuesday and 'Wilko admitted would relish the chance to go on a third tour.

"I'm a rugby fan through and through so this sort of time is amazing. I remember four years ago I was on holiday watching the games. It's such a fabulous occasion," he said.

"There's something very special about a group of guys coming from all over to take on something big over six weeks in the summer. It's a hugely-exciting time."