Wilkinson "back to his best"

Date published: April 18 2013

Toulon flank Steffon Armitage believes that Jonny Wilkinson is playing better than ever ahead of next week's clash with Saracens.

Toulon flank Steffon Armitage believes that team-mate Jonny Wilkinson is playing better than ever ahead of next weekend's Heineken Cup semi-final against Saracens at Twickenham.

The former England pivot, who will turn 34 next month, produced a 100 percent display from the kicking tee to see Toulon past Leicester in the quarter-finals a fortnight ago having recently decided to extend his career by another year.

But Armitage says Wilkinson brings far more than just a reliable boot – he has become an icon at the French club as they chase a first trophy in 20 years.

“It is a great thing for the club, not just for the players but for the supporters,” Armitage told a media gathering at Twickenham on Thursday.

“I still think he has a lot more to offer. He is still playing 80 minutes week in and week out and putting his body on the line. I just think he is awesome.
“He brings a lot of belief and what Toulon should be is Jonny.
“There is a lot of talk about us being mercenaries but it is about bringing the right players in, players whose only aim is to win.
“That winning mentality has brought us together.
“Jonny went through a period in his career when he was always injured but he has only missed a handful of games since coming over to France.
“You can see Jonny is back to his best. He is putting his body on the line in training every day.”

The match is set to be a massive occassion as the Top 14 leaders go head-to-head with the Premiership pacesetters in what will be a familiar venue for many in the star-studded Toulon squad.

“It is like coming home,” added Armitage.
“I have some good memories here playing for England and some bad memories here with London Irish, losing the Heineken Cup semi-final to Toulouse and the Premiership final to Leicester.
“It is about time I started something new and I want to look upon this as the year that it happens.
“Saracens gave me my opportunity to become a professional rugby player in the first place.
“It will always bring back a lot of memories and I know it will be a great game.”

Armitage says he has learned to accept that he, like his fellow Englishmen in France, is unlikely to feature in England coach Stuart Lancaster's plans ahead of the next World Cup.

“I have heard nothing and at the moment I just want to focus on my game and Toulon,” Armitage said.
“My first goal is to play well for Toulon and go forward with them. If anything happens after that it will be the icing on the cake.”