Newcastle Falcons’ latest England international checked back in at his club on Monday, with Mark Wilson enthusiastic about their prospects for the Aviva Premiership season.
The energetic flanker was a stand-out performer for his country during their 2-0 series win in Argentina, arriving later than usual for pre-season on the back of his test match debut.
“It has been good, although slightly different for me this year,” said the Cumbrian, who was shortlisted for Aviva Premiership player of the season.
“Normally I’m back in on the first day with the bulk of the lads in mid-June, but this year my first day comes when most of the group have already been training for five weeks and they’re all in great shape. I’ve had to make sure I don’t come back in too bad a nick, and luckily my first day was more of an organisational, structural day. The true test will come when the intensity goes up later in the week, but hopefully I’m not too far behind.”
Enthused by a summer influx which includes the likes of Maxime Mermoz, Ryan Burrows, Josh Matavesi and Toby Flood, Wilson said: “Although it was great to be given the time off, I don’t want to be playing catch-up. I’ve been doing a bit while I’m away and the lads look like they’re in a really good place, so I’m glad to be back in the mix.
“The new lads look really sharp, they’re adding a lot of top-level experience and one of the pleasing things has been hearing those guys talk in the meetings and during training about personal standards. It’s exciting when you think about adding those guys in with the quality we already have, and it’s important also to recognise the guys who have been here for a while and contributed a lot to the recent improvements we’ve made.
“We have a lot of exciting younger players showing up well like Simon Uzokwe, who is back from injury, and the lads who have been away at the Under-20s World Cup. Those guys are stepping up well, helping to drive the competition and for a first day back I’ve been really impressed with how it’s looking.”
Asked about a memorable summer which saw him becoming a dad for the second time and making his England debut, the 27-year-old said: “If you’d told me nine weeks ago that I’d be coming back for pre-season with two England caps I’d have laughed in your face first, then bitten your hand off!
“It’s funny how things work out but I’m not going to complain. I got invited down to Brighton for a training week with England in May, managed to do alright there and got selected for the Barbarians game. I got a decent 30 minutes off the bench and, through a mixture of injuries and Lions call-ups, it opened up an avenue to be selected for the Argentina tour.”
Starting in the 38-34 win in San Juan and coming on during the 35-25 triumph in Santa Fe, Wilson said: “It was the best experience I’ve had rugby-wise, and the good thing was that Eddie Jones put me at ease before my first test. He just said to go out and do for England what you do for Newcastle, and that kind of calmed my nerves a lot.
“It helped me focus, and as a result I didn’t think too much about the occasion. It wasn’t until after the game, hearing people’s comments, that I realised I’d played a part in a game that had been so good to watch. It was a bit of a spectacle by all accounts but I was blowing so hard during what was a dry, hot day that I didn’t properly appreciate it at the time.
“After the game, getting my first cap was a massive honour, and something that I can hopefully go and improve on. I’ve been given feedback by the England management about what I need to work on, and hopefully through my club form I can challenge for future selection.”
Travelling to Argentina in the knowledge that he might miss the birth of his second child, the Falcons academy graduate was a relieved man when he made it back to Newcastle in time for the arrival of a bouncing baby boy.
“It was a bit of a mixed thing when I originally went away, not knowing whether or not I’d be there for the birth of Zachary. My wife Amy and I were both nervous he was going to come while I was away, but it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.
“The in-laws were looking after my wife during the tour but he arrived about a week after I got back to England, and I managed to help Amy out for the first couple of weeks with being off training. I think she was a bit annoyed with me for having a smile on my face this morning with it being my first day back in pre-season, but it has been brilliant having that few weeks with all four of us as a family. Our daughter Ella was born during the middle of the season so we never really had that first time round, but it has been awesome to make up for that now.”
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