Wilson cannot leave his home in Bayonne without a note and can only exercise within one kilometer of the apartment. Each morning, he and his girlfriend prepare and go through a detailed to-do list. Her list contains exercises to keep her body in shape for the rigors of rugby and studying for her preparations for life after rugby. His contract is coming to an end and Wilson is no longer able to show his talent to interested clubs.
“I don’t know where I play rugby next year. Even with that hanging over me, I’ve never been more productive. I want to play for at least three more years, but that period forced me to think deeply about life after rugby and what I want to do with my life. It’s a worrying time for so many in sport and around the world, but I’m trying to control what I can, what is preparing for my future. “
Wilson is seeking a career in executive coaching. He has an eclectic career in rugby, sharing changing rooms with players from around the world, learning different languages and experiencing a variety of cultures. He has spent the last three years in France, first at Soyaux Angoulême before stays in Bayonne and then in Biarritz. He has learned to love life in France, but warns of the pink tinted vision that he plays champagne rugby on a sunny lawn.
“When I arrived in Angoulême, I waited 45 minutes in the rain and I was finally taken to this small studio overlooking a prison. I live a simple life, so I knew I should just keep going. I didn’t have a car, so even things like getting a bank account were a disaster. I had to walk 2 km to the nearest bank, then I found out that they weren’t open on Mondays and didn’t even have cash if you didn’t have a bank card. Simple things seemed impossible. I just needed to get all the emotion out of it and look for the positive. “
The first morning at the club, he was told to strip down to his underwear for a fat test in front of the team while they were enjoying their breakfast. It was an unconventional introduction, but he earned the respect of having learned a minimum of French. “I knew that language was going to be so crucial in my installation in France. I had done about eight hours of private lessons before my arrival, but I wanted to do more. The club helped me, of course, but I gained a higher level by getting to know some of the Salt Lake City Mormons who were serving here. I learned with them. They knew I was not religious and did not try to convert. Helping me learn French just gave them something to do. I recommend going to the Biarritz players to see them now and I visit them again to train. “
During his time with the England team at seven, Wilson got used to a structured approach to rugby. In France, he traded the complex game plans that made English rugby a muscular chessboard for the spontaneous game he fell in love with when he was a child.
“A lot of players come to France and they think it’s all about” play, play “and a lighter training program. I had experienced incredibly intensive cardiovascular workout with the training of the Seven of England, and I have never been so hard in France. There was not the same scientific approach that I was used to in England. We were encouraged to play by instinct, which often made the game much more enjoyable, and you had to be ready to react to everything that was going on and not just follow the preprogrammed game plan. “
Wilson has become a crowd favorite in Angoulême, a city that has two great loves: comics and rugby. He was asked for selfies at the local bakery and he was arrested by the police, not for speeding, but so that they could ask him how his season was going. Wilson had played in front of 500 people on a good championship day in England and now entertained a crowd of 8,000 people – with marching bands, fireworks and cheerleaders.
“At home, every game is treated the same. In France, the home match takes on a much greater importance. Believe it or not, part of it comes down to wine. We are very proud of the quality of the soil in each region and its ability to produce a specific type of wine. This gives a real connection to the Earth, Earth. They want to defend the city at all costs and rugby allows these small communities to do so against big cities or power plants. In England, rugby can have a reputation as a top class game. In the south of France, it’s the game of the people – no matter where you are from, you will support the local team “
Wilson understands that passion and his extremely aggressive rugby brand suit him, but his calm demeanor initially baffled his coaches. “In my first home games, the coaches blamed me for smiling in the locker room before going out. I’ve always played my best rugby when I’m having fun and I like to be very calm before a game. Before the home games, we sat there for hours in silence, without speaking, just to get up for the game. It means a lot to them to win this home game. “
Wilson signed for Biarritz last year but didn’t have as much field time as he would like. The restrictions on foreign players have been tightened and he has found his opportunities limited. Now that the coronavirus has decimated the rugby season, it does not have an appropriate showcase to display its talents.
“I believe that if you are in a state of uncertainty, you must take control. Whatever control you can grab, you have to do it. So what can I control? I can make sure I eat healthy. I can make sure I do as much exercise to keep my body ready and lastly, I can be proactive and see what opportunities are there for me. I am one of those people who are only happy when I have given everything, as you get older, winning and losing is part of life, it is the effort you put into it that counts in life. “
Jonathan Drennan is on Twitter and you can read his interviews here.