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World Cup-winner Wilkinson excited for rugby union Challenge Cup

The first fixtures of the inaugural rugby union Challenge Cup competition are imminent, with a host of top clubs set to take part, and England 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson can hardly contain his excitement.

His former club Toulon, where he is now a part of the backroom team, are 3/1 favourites with Coral, and having won the Heineken Cup for the French-based outfit for the last two years he is ideally placed to give his expert insight.

Asked to pick the champions of the competition, Wilkinson wouldn’t commit. “It’s really difficult,” he said. “I was looking across the pools, teams and the make-up of those and there is no group in there you’d say that is where we’d want to be if we had the choice. That’s, for me, is really, really exciting.

“You look at Leinster, Munster and Ulster, who are going pretty well and are the big boys in that respect and look at where they feature, as well as those coming over from France. Toulon will obviously want to show that they deserve to be back up there and are not resting on their laurels after two good years and the likes of Racing Metro, who have paid out a lot of money and recruited heavily. They’ll see it as their time to shine.”

The three Irish heavyweights Wilkinson mentioned will always be up there challenging, with Leinster 13/2, Munster 18/1 and Ulster 20/1. Perhaps the latter two odds are surprisingly long, however Munster must first navigate their way out of a tough group that includes Saracens, who were Aviva Premiership Grand Final runners-up last season, as well as Clermont and Sale. Ulster, though, have to get through a pool that includes Leicester Tigers and Toulon, with Welsh club Scarlets expected to struggle.

Eluding to English teams’ chances, Wilkinson continued: “England as well – you can’t go wrong. There’s Saracens, twice they’ve been at the end of the tournament – they’ll be wanting to make it third time lucky, and then you go over to the Welsh sides and Scottish borders and you just know that away victories are going to be so key.”

With a year to go until the World Cup, Wilkinson was hopeful about England’s chances, who are 10/3 to win the 2015 tournament they are hosting: “Only the guys within the squad can give you that honest answer when they go into a game, say, against New Zealand at Twickenham.

“What are they thinking? Are they thinking we might be able to pull this off or are they thinking if we do what we do then we’ll win this? That’s the difference between the understanding that you believe. When I look at it from the outside I don’t believe why this England team shouldn’t look at it like that.”