No Holding Back
The night before the first day at school is a tough one. Will you wake up early enough? Will your school uniform fit? Will the teacher ask you any difficult questions? Scotland’s four and five year-olds have had plenty on their minds over the last week and for their parents, it’s probably been even worse.
“The wee man starts school tomorrow and I feel gutted about it because that’s him away, that’s him for the next 13 years,” said Ryan Wilson ahead of last weekend’s France v Scotland game. “It’s a horrible feeling.”
Anyone who’s ever looked at Wilson’s Instagram posts won’t be surprised to hear him talk fondly about his family. His wife and three kids are a huge part of his life and they’re frequently pictured enjoying days out together. The family man badge is one that Wilson wears with pride.
“That’s why I do it at the end of the day,” he said, “for my family. They love coming to BT Murrayfield and Scotstoun cheering us on.”
He jokes that his days off from training with Scotland are probably a bit different to those of some of his team-mates. “It’s probably harder work than training,” he said. “I do try and get a bit of PlayStation in but it’s always interrupted, the kids always want to go somewhere so they bring my stats down.”
“We were trampolining this morning - I was in there - it’s good recovery - then we were swimming in the afternoon. With being away quite a lot at the moment, it’s pretty tough, so when you get a day off it’s important to spend as much time as possible with them.”
Wilson’s commitment to his family is matched by his dedication to representing his club and country. He joined Glasgow Warriors in 2010 after making appearances in the English Premiership A League with London Irish and Wasps and he made his debut for Glasgow against Leinster in September 2010. Wilson earned his first cap off the bench in the 2013 Six Nations match against Wales at BT Murrayfield. His first start for Scotland was at openside flanker against South Africa in Nelspruit in June later that year.
With 43 caps to his name, Wilson has played for the national side every year since his initial selection and has emerged as a real leader in the Scotland squad. He says that with players coming into the squad from Edinburgh, Glasgow and further afield there are plenty of good ideas to be shared in camp.
“I’ll try and put as much as I can in from what we do at Glasgow but there are so many leaders in the Scotland squad now, there’s some big individuals in terms of captaincy, so we’re pretty lucky with that,” he said.
Wilson passed his 150 cap mark for Glasgow Warriors in January in their 33-24 victory over
Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun, and last season he co-captained the side with Callum Gibbons.
Next summer will mark a decade with the club.
“Ten years makes me feel old but I think I’ve still got a bit of life left in the legs yet,” he said. “Glasgow has become our home - not just mine but Bex and the kids’ too. All three of the kids were born in Glasgow, that’s two of them at school here now and one’ll be at nursery soon. Ten years ago I’d never have pictured that.
“I’ve enjoyed it and it’s got me to where I am with Scotland as well, playing for Glasgow, so I’m grateful for that.”
Right now Wilson’s focus is on the national side and after a summer’s worth of training in Portugal and around Scotland he says he can’t wait to face France. “I’m feeling good but just chomping at the bit to get a game,” he said. “You can only train so much without playing a game at the weekend.
“We play this sport to play a match, to get that adrenaline rush from playing in the big games.”
Wilson’s last experience in a Scotland shirt was in this year’s Guinness Six Nations match against Ireland. He sustained knee ligament damage during the game which put an end to his championship, meaning he missed the subsequent games against France, Wales and England.
The back-row forward got his chance to make an impact when he was chosen in the starting 15 for Scotland’s clash against France at BT Murrayfield and he put in a solid performance in the 17-14 win.
Back-to-back fixtures against Georgia are next on Scotland’s fixture list, first in Tbilisi and then back in Edinburgh where it’ll be an evening game on Friday 6 September. The last time the two sides met, in November 2016 at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park, Wilson was voted Man of the Match in a 43-16 victory for the home side. Despite the decisive result, Wilson says he won’t be taking anything for granted.
“They’re another team that have got a lot to prove,” he said. “They’re desperate to get into the Six Nations and I don’t know what will happen with that but they’ll be wanting to prove a point.
“Back-to-back games against them is going to be tough. They’re a good team, they’re getting better every year and they’re definitely knocking on the door. They’re a massively physical team.”
When facing opponents known for their physicality, you can’t help wondering if players are concerned about the impact that physicality might have on their chances of making it to Japan. There have been some high-profile players from the home nations ruled out in recent weeks due to injuries sustained in summer Tests, but Wilson says you can’t spend time dwelling on it:
“I guess when you pick up knocks during a game it’ll always be in the back of your mind, it is there, but the danger of that is if you go in half-hearted there’s more risk of injury so we’ll be making sure everyone goes in 100%.”
The competition for places in the back row of Scotland’s Rugby World Cup squad has been a hot topic of discussion in recent months, with Wilson sitting alongside John Barclay, Magnus Bradbury, Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner, Josh Strauss, Blade Thomson and Hamish Watson on Head Coach Gregor Townsend’s list of options. Wilson says that this level of competition means that there’s no room for complacency.
“We push each other on and everyone’s working as hard as they can,” he said. “You do as much as you can as a professional sportsman and as long as you’ve put everything in then the rest is out of your hands.”
Not all of those competing for places for the world cup have experience of the global showcase, but Wilson was there in 2015, participating in all four pool games.
“It’s another step up,” he said. “In 2015 when it was in England it was amazing because everywhere you went everyone knew the world cup was on.
“It’s really in the spotlight and everywhere you go people are saying ‘good luck’, it’s incredible.
“It was certainly a big thing in England so I think it’ll be just as big in Japan because rugby’s getting massive out there as well now.”
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, you can be sure that Wilson will tell it like it is. He’s well known for speaking his mind, even if he occasionally ruffles feathers.
“Too right, I’m like that on and off the field I suppose so there’s no point in holding back,” he said. “I like to have a laugh with it because at the end of the day, I know it’s a job but you’ve got to enjoy it.”