European triumph better than World Cup rugby crown, Toulon's Wilkinson says
Flyhalf hero admits victory with Toulon over Clermont in Dublin means more to him than leading England to glory over Australia 10 years ago
Toulon hero Jonny Wilkinson says winning the European Cup was an even greater feeling than lifting the Rugby World Cup.
The 33-year-old flyhalf kicked four from four, including the clinching conversion, to help Toulon to a 16-15 victory over Clermont in Dublin's Lansdowne Road stadium.
It is 10 years since he fired England to World Cup glory with a last-ditch drop goal to beat hosts Australia, but he insisted that this victory meant even more to him.
"It's right up there and it sort of goes beyond [winning the World Cup] because life's in the now, it's not in the past," he explained. "It's always about the next goal you set yourself, and it gets better and better if you're with a club as good as this, so for me it ranks right up there."
Wilkinson enjoyed Six Nations and grand slam glory with England, but it seemed one of the all-time great flyhalves might never reach the pinnacle of European club competition.
In 2009, after 12 years with Newcastle Falcons during which he won just one league title and two Powergen Cups, he signed for ambitious Toulon and four years later he has earned his reward.
But he admits it was not all plain sailing. "You question yourself all the time - do you deserve to be in a team like this?" he said.
"Then moments like this give you an opportunity to look at it in a different way and see what an amazing opportunity you have."
Wilkinson turned down a British and Irish Lions call-up from coach Warren Gatland last month, and admits nothing has changed after this success.
"It's very clear cut in my head," he said. "I had a chat with Warren before the announcement, I said, 'This is me now', this stage of my career, it's how it has to be. He understood.
"How many tackles did we do today? I need to be 100 per cent just to survive that, so it's difficult to think about anything else.
"Never say never, but everything I've got is going toward these guys and this club."
Toulon become the 10th club to see their name engraved on the Heineken Cup trophy, but for Clermont it was yet another case of so close, yet so far.
The Michelin-backed outfit lost 10 French championship finals before finally winning one in 2010, and despite looking odds-on to taste European victory at their first attempt, they slipped up with 15 minutes to go, and once more must reflect on a wasted opportunity.
For local boy Aurelien Rougerie, who has spent his entire career with Clermont, it was almost too difficult to comprehend.
"I would like to know what happened, if I knew that we would do things differently," he said.
"We made a terrible mistake, we lost the ball and were turned over and we didn't have the resources to score again and Toulon deservedly win the title.
"At the end I had no words, I had difficulty expressing myself, to put my thoughts into words."
Rougerie played his part in Clermont's finest passages, making the final pass for both Napolioni Nalaga and Brock James' tries.
But it was not enough, and coach Vern Cotter cut a dejected figure as he surveyed the wreckage of the defeated dressing room.
"It's going to be hard going back to look at the video," he admitted. "We started the second half well, gave ourselves some breathing space, but we did some silly things at ruck time, and got penalised.
"Then through one of our initiatives we got turned over and it's a try. We had the ball in their half for the last 10 minutes, and it's very frustrating not to come away with a better result."