The Irish Mail on Sunday

Giteau aiming to give ‘perfect’ Wilkinson a send off to remember in Cardiff

- By Liam Heagney

MATT Giteau is running late. Additional kicking practice ahead of Friday night’s Top 14 semi-final against Racing Metro is the excuse and ERC, which has arranged the interview, isn’t of a mind to admonish the Australian for poor timekeepin­g. The company will no longer be pulling European rugby’s strings once the curtain falls following next Saturday’s 19th Heineken Cup decider and the organisati­on’s farewell could at least have a fairytale ending for Jonny Wilkinson, Giteau’s teammate at Toulon.

As with Brian O’Driscoll’s last lap with Leinster and Ireland, an element of farewell fatigue has stalked every mention of Wilkinson’s name. But Toulon versus Saracens is the dream final for the English media and the out-half who kicked his country to 2003 World Cup glory is sure to be fêted as the days count down to next weekend’s last Heineken Cup hurrah.

The French club’s strike rate in reaching domestic and European deciders has been impressive, Toulon progressin­g to their sixth in three seasons with Friday night’s Top 14 semi-final win over Racing Metro.

However, the possibilit­y of achieving the rare feat of becoming back-to-back Heineken Cup champions and emulating Leicester (2001-2002) and Leinster (2011-2012) is being overshadow­ed by their desire to give Wilkinson a smiling send-off.

‘I’d absolutely love to win a title,’ admits Giteau, ‘but for a player like Jonny, who has done so much for the game, who has always carried himself in the right light that he seldom puts a foot wrong and has remained incredibly humble, it would mean a lot to the team, to everyone, if we could send him off on the right note.

‘He would be almost embarrasse­d that we would be talking about him because that is the type of player that he is, he is focused solely on the team. But it would mean a lot to the team if we were able to send him out on the right note.

‘He almost leads a perfect life. He trains very hard, he’s a genuine nice guy who is happy to help anyone out, he is fantastic for the group, he commands so much respect that players want to improve, players want to get better, players almost want to show him the talent that they have got. He’s a phenomenal guy for this group and he was instrument­al in helping me settle as quickly as I did. Being able to speak both languages, his vision for the game, the way he chats about where we see the team or how we’d like to play, he just makes things very easy and makes it simplistic.’

Giteau was blown away by Saracens in last month’s semi-final, annihilati­ng Clermont 46-6 at Twickenham. ‘They easily produced the most dominant display this year. No one has ever done that to

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playmaker: Matt Giteau

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