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October 17, 2009

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Wilko boosts England case

ENGLAND fly-half Jonny Wilkinson kicked 16 points and survived a worrying late hit to lead Toulon to a 31-23 European Challenge Cup win over Saracens in Toulon, France, on Thursday.

In the process, he passed the 100-point mark for his new French employers as well as further pushing his case for a starting place in the England line-up for the forthcoming autumn Tests.

"I hope it's something that I can keep going and I can last at," Wilkinson told Sky Sports after Toulon's second win in two Pool 3 matches.

"I'm enjoying myself here and trying to build on my own performances as well.

"It's a great place to be and it helps with these guys around me. Things are coming together well and we seem to be getting some momentum going. It's a building process. The atmosphere here is superb."

Fiji international centre Gabrieli Lovobalavu scored two first-half tries to help Toulon to an 18-9 lead at the break with Wilkinson playing a key role in both.

After Wilkinson had kicked two penalties for a 6-3 lead, the first try came in the 27th minute with the Englishman quickly releasing Japan's Tongan-born winger Christian Loamanu who in turn fed Lovobalavu.

The Fijian was on the scoresheet again five minutes later.

This time Wilkinson launched a high, testing kick which Saracens' ex-All Black scrum-half Justin Marshall misjudged, allowing Toulon full-back Luke Rooney to break through.

With the Saracens defence desperately short-handed, flanker Joe van Niekerk joined the line to supply Lovobalavu with the try-scoring pass.


By the interval, Saracens, with England skipper Steve Borthwick back in the team after a three-week injury absence, were clinging on thanks to three penalties from South African fly-off Derick Hougaard.

Toulon was quickly 23-9 ahead in the second half when a flurry of quick passes allowed Loamanu to free Tom May to score despite a suspicion of a forward pass.

Wilkinson missed the conversion but added a penalty for a 28-9 lead before Saracens cut the deficit again when Springbok lock Wikus van Heerden finished off a powerful, rolling maul.

Hougaard converted for 28-16 before Wilkinson added another penalty for a 31-16 lead heading into the last 15 minutes.

Saracens reduced the gap in the dying moments when winger Richard Haughton scored a breakaway try after intercepting a wayward pass from Toulon scrum-half Pierre Mignoni.

Wilkinson, whose career has been blighted by injuries, survived a late heavy tackle but dusted himself off before forcing a timely turnover as Saracens saw their perfect record this season come to an end.


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