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RugbyU: Wilkinson glad to be back at Twickenham

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Jonnny Wilkinson will return to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs when he captains French club Toulon at Twickenham on Sunday in their European Cup semi-final with Saracens.

This will be the 33-year-old England great's first appearance at the iconic ground since a World Cup warm-up match in 2011.

That year saw Wilkinson retired from England duty but he remains his country's record scorer with 1,179 points from 91 matches, including the drop-goal that sealed victory in the 2003 World Cup final.

"The stadium here and what it has represented to me has been incredible," Wilkinson said Friday at Twickenham, where he made his England debut in 1998.

"I've had some phenomenal memories here and I've learnt so much, it's impossible to explain. I've enjoyed every second of it, especially with the guys I've had the opportunity to play with here."

For Wilkinson, who joined Toulon from Newcastle in 2009, Sunday's match could be his final appearance at Twickenham, even though he recently signed a new contract with the French giants -- who are bidding for a domestic and European double having reached the semi-finals of France's Top 14 championship as well.

"I try not to look at it as the 'last this or last that' it's just really a case of saying you want to make the most of the occasion and go out there and give it everything you've got," Wilkinson added.

"That's always been the mantra going into any game at Twickenham. Just to get one shot here is good enough," insisted Wilkinson, who in 42 Tests for England at the ground was on the winning side 36 times.

If Wilkinson is England's fly-half past, Saracens' stand-off Owen Farrell is England's present and indeed future in the position, with the 21-year-old the man in possession of the Red Rose No.10 shirt.

"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."

Wilkinson won't be the only Toulon player back on familiar territory when they face London side Saracens on Sunday.

The French club's starting line-up includes former England internationals Delon Armitage (full-back) and Andrew Sheridan (prop), while coach Bernard Laporte knows the ground well from his time in charge of France.

"I have a lot of great memories of Twickenham, a few defeats and a few victories. Usually we didn't have Jonny on the same side," Laporte recalled.

"For the English guys in the Toulon team it will be marvellous and moving."

Toulon, bankrolled by wealthy owner Mourad Boudjellal, have been accused of being a team of stars rather than a star team.

But Wilkinson said a multi-national side featuring the likes of New Zealand's Carl Heyman, South Africa's Bakkies Botha and Argentina's Juan Martinez Fernandez Lobbe was a close-knit unit.

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

"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."

jdg/bc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130426/rugbyu-wilkinson-glad-be-back-at-twickenham