Jimmy Gopperth reveals respect for Jonny Wilkinson

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport

When Jimmy Gopperth arrived at Newcastle Falcons in the summer of 2009, he had huge boots to fill.

The former Junior All Black was signed as a replacement for the Toulon-bound Jonny Wilkinson, a world-class England international who ended a 12-year stay at Falcons with a record of 1,938 points.

However Gopperth, and his unerring right boot, has proved up to the task.

A remarkable 553 points in 55 appearances have made the Kiwi stand-off a popular figure on Tyneside, and a key part of Alan Tait's plans.

With Wilkinson named in the French club's squad of 26, both players are in line to feature in Thursday's Amlin Challenge Cup encounter between Newcastle and Toulon at Kingston Park.

And there is great respect from Gopperth for his predecessor.

"He's still the golden boy around here, and so he should be," Gopperth told BBC Look North.

"What he's done in his career, it's something you can't shy away from. He deserves every little accolade he gets."

Thursday's fixure would be the first head to head between the two prolific number 10s, but Gopperth is refusing to build up the personal contest.

"I'm not too fussed about that, I don't get into that - at the end of the day we're two people, and it's a rugby team, 15 people step out on to the field," he pointed out.

"You can't try to have an individual battle yourself, you've got to worry about the whole team and do what you can to make the team come out on top."

The visit of Toulon also brings the return of former Falcons and All Blacks prop Carl Hayman, with coaches, fans and players alike geared up for a reunion.

"It's going to be great for the fans and the whole region [Jonny] coming home," said Gopperth.

"He spent a lot of his years here, he's been brought up as a Falcon. For him and Carl coming to play against their old team it's a good occasion, but it's a good occasion for us as well.

"Getting the home boys back to Kingston Park, we'll be looking forward to matching up against them."

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