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Jonny Wilkinson is relieved Toulon conjured win against 'magic' Chiefs

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 10, 2013

By Mike Baker

Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson was greatly impressed by the style of play exhibited by Exeter Chiefs last Saturday.  Picture: Pinnacle

Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson was greatly impressed by the style of play exhibited by Exeter Chiefs last Saturday. Picture: Pinnacle

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Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson praised Exeter Chiefs for playing some "magic" rugby following his side's 14-9 Heineken Cup victory at Sandy Park last Saturday.

Wilkinson led a side packed with international experience and assembled at great cost, but Chiefs pushed them all the way, and led 9-8 for 30 minutes either side of half-time before a penalty from Australia international Matt Giteau and a trademark drop-goal from Toulon's talismanic No.10 edged them in front.

Admittedly, the reigning European champions had been in the ascendancy for much of the second half and rarely looked like allowing Chiefs to pierce their formidable defence, but Wilkinson felt the result had been in the balance right to the final whistle.

And with two of Chiefs' young stars – Henry Slade and Jack Nowell – shining brightly live on television, the manner in which the Devon side kept looking to attack impressed the former England fly-half.

"It was a tough game, but we expected that," the 34-year-old said. "Watching Exeter and how they've been getting on, it's fabulous to see the way they are playing the game and are able to compete and beat so many teams.

"I think last year a lot of people mentioned when they played Clermont what a battle they put up, but it's no longer about that for them. These guys are beating teams day in, day out and playing great rugby in doing it.

"It's a magic thing for English rugby that there's an example like that showing, one to 15, guys with skills and playing in that manner. It's just great, and something to learn from.

"I know we will learn from what they are doing and also from how hard it is hard to play against. It's great for us, great for Europe and great for what they are doing down here.

"It's a fabulous place, fabulous support and long may it continue."

Neither side have much time to recover from a bruising encounter before doing it all again, with the rematch on Saturday at Stade Felix Mayol.

The French Top 14 side are a tough proposition at home, but will be weakened with South Africa wing Bryan Habana and hooker Craig Burden both out injured.

Wilkinson, for one, admitted he enjoyed his first visit to Sandy Park, and hoped the Chiefs players would do likewise in Toulon.

"A lot of the guys found out what it was like coming here to play and maybe it will be a bit like that for their players coming to our place," he said.

"We've enjoyed it, and I'm sure they will take something out of the experience as well.

"We know we have to prepare damn well this week to play against this team. We've seen first-hand what Chiefs are capable of and maybe if a few balls didn't go down or the rub of the green went slightly differently, we would have been in a very different situation.

"Right now we'll take each game as it comes, but these guys will be incredibly tough next week. Like I said, today could easily have been a different story, so I wouldn't like to be doing this again."

Following their trip to France, Chiefs round off their Heineken Cup group matches against Glasgow Warriors (home) and Cardiff Blues (away) when the competition resumes in January.

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