Pivotal generation gap in Euro Final
Tue, 20 May 2014 11:36
His mental toughness is quite something to behold
England legend Jonny Wilkinson knows that current England flyhalf Owen Farrell will be a tough nut to crack when they square off in the European Cup Final.
The clash at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday will be Wilkinson's penultimate match before retirement, with both French side Toulon and English club Saracens looking to complete the first leg of a European and domestic league double.
Wilkinson, Farrell's senior by 12 years, got the better of the Sarries man when Toulon defeated the London club in the semifinals of last season's European Cup before going on to lift the trophy.
But the 22-year-old Farrell is a better player now than he was then and Wilkinson, after confirming his impending retirement on Monday, said that he has plenty of respect for his counterpart's mental strength.
"I think Owen Farrell and Saracens or Owen Farrell and England at the moment are very much the same thing.
"He is a representation of all that is good in those teams at the moment in terms of his skill level, his understanding of the game, leadership qualities and such like," the drop-goal hero of England's 2003 World Cup final win added.
"I think the consistency of his performance and also his mental toughness, which is quite something to behold, has given a huge amount of strength and solidity to all the teams he plays in.
"He seems to be a guy you are able to build things around because of that consistency and that mental ability to keep going and pushing further and going into some of the harshest rugby environments there are, and really dominate."
If Toulon win this weekend they will become only the third club after England's Leicester and Irish province Leinster to retain the European Cup.
Saracens, however, will go into the match buoyed by the knowledge of their incredibly dominant 46-6 thrashing of Top 14 giants Clermont in the semifinals last month.
"We are used to hearing about Clermont putting scorelines like that on other teams, so immediately after hearing the result you do think 'that's a hell of a performance'," Wilkinson said.
"It was the situation that Saracens managed to put Clermont in, in terms of the pressure they put them under, scoring points, getting ahead, forcing errors and making Clermont having to take more risks.
"It still takes one hell of a team to do that, especially in a semifinal of the European Cup."
Another Saracens and England star who has caught Wilkinson's eye is loose forward Billy Vunipola.
"I was at the France-England game (this season) and could see that guys like him would be the future of rugby itself," Wilkinson, who retired from Test rugby after the 2011 World Cup, said.
"It's very exciting to see the professionalism taking hold, the games getting quicker and more skillful.
"Billy, although he is playing with a No 8 on his back, is capable of doing pretty much anything. These are the guys we will be watching for many years to come."
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