Mark McCall sees Wilkinson as the danger
The Ulster-born coach eyes up a first European Cup and domestic double for Saracens
Owen Farrell. The outhalf says Saracens are determined to get “better and better” as they close in on a possible European and domestic trophy double. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.
Boss McCall believes Saracens gifted Toulon 18 of their 24 points in last season’s 24-12 Heineken Cup semi-final defeat. Saracens slipped up in the last four of both European action and the Aviva Premiership last term.
The Men In Black are battling for a European and league double this term, starting by facing Toulon in the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff on Saturday. McCall knows Saracens must cut off Wilkinson’s points supply line this weekend to keep those double dreams alive.
“Jonny kicked 24 points last year, one was a drop-goal and the rest were penalties,” said the Saracens rugby director. “Six of those penalties we gave away when we were in possession of the ball.
“We weren’t under the pump, we weren’t hanging on for dear life: We had possession of the ball in our half. And there’s a lesson for us in that, it’s very important when you play Jonny Wilkinson and Toulon how you approach the game, and where you play.
“They are an outstanding defensive team, they are very good over the ball. Alain Rolland gives penalties quickly against the ball carrier, so you’ve got to be accurate when you go into contact.
“And we’ve got to play more of the game in their half than in our own. This time last year we were finished, the season was over and there was this incredible regret and disappointment.
“I think we’re just chuffed that we’re preparing for a huge match. But it’s important we keep things as they always are, our very best performances are always preceded by our best preparation weeks.”
Wilkinson will retire after the Heineken Cup and French Top 14 finals as Toulon chase a European and domestic double of their own. The 34-year-old World Cup winner has enjoyed a new lease of life since swapping Newcastle for Toulon in 2009, easing past his previous horror-show injury glut.
Saracens boss McCall said Australia centre Matt Giteau has had a big hand in that, helping Wilkinson add extra dimensions to Toulon’s already-threatening attacking game. McCall admitted Saracens must not allow Giteau time or space to dictate play in Cardiff, otherwise star-studded Toulon will wind up retaining the trophy their claimed last season.
“He’s a very special player, because he’s got not only a fantastic passing game, he kicks the ball well, he’s stronger and quicker than most people think,” said McCall of Giteau. And he’s at his most dangerous when he’s at the line with a winger on his inside, and you can’t take your eye off him for a second, he’s a superb player.
“I think Toulon are a brilliant rugby team. There’s this common view out there of how to beat them, just to move their big men around and play with tempo, and everyone who has done that has come up short.
“So you’ve got to have other plans and find ways of stressing them, taking away their energy and moving their big men around in a different kind of way.
“So hopefully we’ll be able to execute some things to do just that. I’m unbelievably impressed with what Toulon have put together, they’ve gathered together incredibly competitive people, all high achieving world stars.
“You put 23 of those together and you’re going to get a pretty competitive team. I think there are examples of teams who have spent a lot of money, or brought in stars, and then not delivered.
“But Toulon seem to have chosen very well, with the squad they have got they have a great togetherness, spirit and camaraderie, and on top of that they are all good players.”
RC Toulon: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana; Jonny Wilkinson (c), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Alexandre Menini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Ali Williams, Virgile Bruni, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Jocelino Suta
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick (c), Alistair Hargreaves, Kelly Brown, Jacques Burger, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Jamie George, Richard Barrington, James Johnston, Mouritz Botha, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles