NICK Abendanon believes his battle to come in from the Rugby World Cup wilderness has nothing to do with the Champions Cup final.
The former Bath full-back insists reaching the European showpiece in his first season at Clermont vindicates his decision to leave the Recreation Ground last summer.
The 28-year-old will be in the same boat as Toulon rival Steffon Armitage in this afternoon’s Twickenham clash, with both men still fighting to catch England boss Stuart Lancaster’s eye.
Clermont are bidding for their first European title, in a repeat of the 2013 Heineken Cup final, and Abendanon insists club glory is all that matters this weekend.
“To be honest with you, I know there’s been a lot of talk about the World Cup, but at the end of the day it’s got nothing to do with how well Stef and I are going to play tomorrow,” said Abendanon.
“We’ve both done our part for our teams to get ourselves into this position in the first place and Stuart’s going to be the only one who can make that decision.”
Abendanon won just two Test caps in his ten-year stint at Bath, with that lack of international opportunity doubtless factoring in his decision to chase a new challenge across the Channel last summer.
England look ready to stick to their policy of refusing to select foreign-based stars at the World Cup and prepared also to ignore the “exceptional circumstances” clause that allows for special cases.
The clamour for Toulon star Armitage’s World Cup inclusion has run all season, since the former London Irish loose-forward almost joined Bath in October in a bid to reintegrate into the England set-up.
Abendanon has emerged as a World Cup contender across the course of Clermont’s tilt for European glory and the South Africa-born star believes he has benefited from his switch.
“I think I’ve definitely improved as a player,” said Abendanon. “Coming into a new environment, I was very comfortable at Bath having been there ten years.
“Being coached by new coaches and playing with some of the best players I’ve had the privilege of playing with, you learn new things.”
For Toulon, British and Irish Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny will provide the kind of goal-kicking accuracy the Cote d’Azur club lost when Jonny Wilkinson retired last summer.
Abendanon admits Clermont must toe the disciplinary line today to ensure his counterpart is not gifted the opportunity to take the tie out of reach.
“Leigh’s a great player, he’s obviously shown over the last three years his class and running lines,” said Abendanon.
“He’s a player with a lot of experience and he’s one of the integral players in their team when it comes to keeping their scoreboard ticking over.
“He’s a fantastic kicker of the ball and for us to counteract that our discipline needs to be 100 per cent accurate to take that away from them.”
But Wilkinson can still inspire Toulon to rewrite the European history books this weekend almost a year on from retirement, according to Bernard Laporte.
The Toulon coach hopes his side can “enter legend” by claiming an unprecedented third consecutive European title at Twickenham.
The former France coach admitted Toulon will bid to “uphold” Wilkinson’s legacy in the Champions Cup final clash with Clermont.
World Cup-winner Wilkinson has spent the week with Toulon in his part-time skills coaching role, bidding to guide the French Top 14 title-holders to yet more glory.
“Jonny did bring us a lot, he was part of the players who left last summer and everybody cried,” said Laporte.
“He left after two European titles and very few could claim such a performance. Jonny is here with us, of course. There is a great motivation to do it for Jonny and uphold what he has done before.”
The former England stand-off ended a glittering career by winning the last Heineken Cup and the Top 14 title on successive weekends with Toulon at the end of last season.
The 2003 World Cup winner has moved seamlessly into Toulon’s backroom staff, however, balancing his Stade Mayol commitments with a thriving one-to-one personal coaching business.
Tournament bosses European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) expect a crowd of 50,000, with a host of ticket giveaways boosting the attendance.
Laporte admitted it was “a shame” the final could not be held in France, though Twickenham was selected as a venue last summer.
“I’m not here to fuel controversy. It’s a shame our supporters cannot take part in the party,” said Laporte.
“The club is part of their life and the fact they cannot come because it’s too far and too expensive is a shame.”