Wilko-less Toulon in turmoil

2014-09-18 11:11
Jonny Wilkinson (File)

Paris - Defending Top 14 champions Toulon go into their sixth game of the season at Brive on Friday in the midst of a kicker crisis.

The double European champions suffered a hiccup last weekend when they went down 28-24 to Stade Francais, three players missing six penalties and a conversion between them.

The metronomic Jonny Wilkinson hung up his boots last season, and his normal kicking back-up, Australian Matt Giteau, has sat out the last three matches with injury.

Wales and British Lions' goal-kicking fullback Leigh Halfpenny, recruited by Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal primarily as Wilkinson's replacement, has yet to start a game after first touching down in southern France recovering from shoulder surgery and now having picked up a groin injury.

Boudjellal's headache continues with Frederic Michalak also out.

The mercurial France back had hit four from five in the Stade Francais game before going off injured in the 49th minute.

"Fred was playing a good match," said Toulon forwards' coach Jacques Delmas.

"If he hadn't been injured and with his kicking success, I think we would have won."

In his absence, neither James O'Connor, long-range expert Delon Armitage nor Eric Escande could take the points on offer.

"Our sole kicker got injured. The others are not kickers, that much is clear," straight-talking coach Bernard Laporte said after the game.

In a seemingly knee-jerk reaction, Boudjellal immediately announced the signing from January of Argentina's injury-prone 32-year-old Juan Martin Hernandez, before threatening that Halfpenny's contract could be terminated should it be proved that he arrived at Toulon with an already-existing groin injury.

So kicking duties on Friday fall to Giteau, who booted 31 points in the opening two Top 14 matches of the season before himself falling prey to injury in late August.

Rumours of a possible comeback by the kicking king Wilkinson, who famously booted England to World Cup victory in 2003, are unsurprisingly doing the rounds.

"He's an amazing guy," Delmas said. "He loves Toulon. If Fred Michalak's injury is serious and we're stuck and Bernard (Laporte) asked him to come out of retirement, I think he'd say yes."

That seems unlikely, however, with Wilkinson only spending one week in every month in his role as skills and kicking coach with Toulon.

Top-placed Clermont, with four wins from five outings, are one point ahead of Stade Francais, with Toulon in third a further three points adrift.

In a typically tight start to the season, only five points separate Toulon and 13th-placed La Rochelle.

Clermont host Lyon on Saturday, while Stade Francais travel to fourth-placed Montpellier. Bordeaux-Begles are away at la Rochelle, Racing-Metro entertain struggling giants Toulouse and Oyonnax travel to Castres.

Read more on:    jonny wilkinson  |  rugby

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