Saturday, 15 August 2009

Toulon 22 – Stade Francais 22

Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, France, Argentina, Fiji, South Africa, England, France, Georgia, Australia: what is the link between these 11 countries? Well, rugby players from all those countries were on the pitch at the Stade Mayol in Toulon last night when the French domestic competition kicked-off.

It’s a sign of the changing world of rugby, now 14 years into the professional era, and also a sign of the determination of Toulon to rise to the top of the French Super 14 competition. Under their millionaire owners, clubs will now pay top wages to secure the best players from all over the world.

For me, it was the first game of the new year in the northern hemisphere, and I watched it unfold down on the Cote d’Azur from the comfort of my chair, with a glass of wine to hand, thanks to ESPN, the Disney-owned sports network which has taken over from Setanta.

There was a lot of English attention on this game as Jonny Wilkinson joined Toulon over the summer and was playing his first game for 10 months. In fact he’s had six very difficult years since kicking the winning points in November 2003 in Sydney (yes, yes, I was there). The England national coach Martin Johnson seems determined to include Jonny in his plans so we are all interested to see how the old man (now 30) stands up to the rigours, and if his general skills are still as sharp as his kicking.

For the boys: Wilkinson played well, looked fit, and kicked 17 points.

For the girls: Wilkinson looked very fit, and now has gold highlights in his blond hair**

The result: a respectable 22 – 22 draw in front of a capacity crowd.

** That reminds me of a text I received 2 years ago when watching the world cup ¼ final in Marseille. England were playing Australia for a place in the semi-final, Australia were leading the tense match when England won a penalty, which Wilkinson was to take, and secure the lead for us. My ‘phone beeped: “ (my boyfriend) says if Jonny kicks this I can have his babies”. Well he did, and England went through to the semi-final.

And did she? Well I don’t know, and I’m far too polite to ask.

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