This week, Talking Rugby Unions’ Joe Harvey spoke to with Mark Wilson as the England International prepares to return from an injury sustained at the rugby World Cup to make his highly anticipated Sale Sharks debut.
Having linked up with his new teammates for this season following England’s World Cup final loss to South Africa in November, the backrow forward then underwent knee surgery which has left him out of action until the end of this month.
Wilson has joined Sale on loan from Newcastle Falcons after the club’s relegation from the Premiership last term, but now he is only a few weeks away from pulling on the Sharks jersey for the first time.
The 30-year-old has notched up 224 appearances for his parent club, winning Newcastle’s Player of the Season award in 2014, and he has also become a regular in Eddie Jones’ England squads since the 2017 summer tour to Argentina.
Despite having been a core member of Newcastle’s team for the entirety of the last decade, Wilson’s journey in the sport began in the North-West. His first taste of senior rugby came at Kendal RUFC and his performances in the National Leagues earnt him a professional contract in Gosforth.
“Funnily enough, where I’m from is actually closer to Sale than Newcastle,” Wilson said. “With all my family being from the North-West, I understand what it means to guys to play for this club, like your Will Cliff’s, your Cam Neild’s, who are from around the region.
“I knew quite a lot of lads from quite a way back. Like Will Cliff and Josh Beaumont, I know them quite well, so when I actually turned out that I knew a lot more of the lads than I thought I did and having played against Sale for years, I had a good gist about what the club was about.”
A vital cog in Newcastle’s fourth place finish in the 2018/19 Premiership campaign, Wilson played across the backrow when available last season in an attempt to prevent the Falcons from facing the drop down to the Championship.
Used by Eddie Jones at openside, blindside and number eight in the 2018 Autumn Internationals and 2019 Six Nations, Wilson quickly became a favourite for coaches and fans in an England shirt. Winning the Player of the Series award in 2018 for his efforts in the Autumn, Wilson played three games at the World Cup in Japan, recording a 93% tackle completion rate in the tournament.
Wilson is now in good company at the AJ Bell as Steve Diamond’s changing room is overrun with quality backrow players. In the summer alone, Dan and Jean-Luc Du Preez have come to Manchester in order to bolster the position, joining the Curry twins, captain Jono Ross and Sam Moore in the highly competitive position group.
“I want to try and add something, hopefully,” Wilson said. “They’ve got some great backrows here, so I just want to try and add to the team, in the way that I have played with Newcastle. I’m looking forward to playing with some good players, both sets of twins and guys like Jono Ross, who I’ve been competing against for a long time in the Premiership.”
Confined to training at Carrington so far in his time with Sale, Wilson believes that the current squad of players is more than capable of pulling off something special this season. Currently placed fourth in the Gallagher Premiership, Sharks will be hoping to, at the very least, secure a playoff spot later this year.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Wilson said. “When I turned up a couple of months ago, I could sense a brood of excitement because, with what has happened with Saracens, that has opened up a slot in the top four.
“There is absolutely no reason why we cannot go and achieve something. There is an exciting bunch of players, guys that are playing really, really well who have either come in this season or in the last 12 months for Sale. It is really exciting to think what the next four or five months have got in store.”
Due to return to first team action in early February, Wilson will be coming into the squad when Tom Curry is set to be away with England as the 21-year-old continues to be a top performer for the Sharks in both the Premiership and Champions Cup.
“My first thought is to get back fit, get back to 100%. I’ve had a few months, including the World Cup period, where I probably haven’t been firing on 100%. Then the next challenge is playing for the team and then moving on to trying to get back into the England fold after a few good performances for Sale.”
Despite only being in Manchester for one season, Wilson is keen to make an impact both on and off the field. Walking into Carrington as one of the Premierships most established names, the 30-year-old believes that his experiences at Newcastle and with England can be both passed on to the Academy players, as well as establish himself in a Sharks shirt.
“You can try and relate them experiences as you go on and, hopefully, with the younger guys in the squad, I can help them with their experiences that they might be having,” Wilson said.
“Dealing with big pressure games, the expectations, the nerves, hopefully these things will hold me in good stead, but all these experiences have been great and will help me here.”
Mark is set to return from injury at the end of January in time for the club’s crunch Gallagher Premiership trip to Exeter Chiefs.
Mark Wilson is sponsored by Bentley Manchester.