|Rugby World Cup 2019 warm-up Test: Scotland v Georgia|
|Venue: Murrayfield Date: Friday, 6 September Kick-off: 19:30 BST|
Injured and agitated, Ryan Wilson hired a camper van last weekend and took his family on a road trip. While Scotland were in Georgia, Wilson, his wife Bex and their three young children left Glasgow and headed north with their pots, pans and sleeping bags. Destination anywhere.
Wilson had picked up a knock and was unable to travel to Tbilisi to hammer home his case for inclusion in Gregor Townsend’s World Cup squad. To say he was worried doesn’t quite cover it.
His week might have ended blissfully with a spot on the plane to Japan as well as being given the honour of captaining his country for the first time in the final warm-up game against Georgia at Murrayfield on Friday, but the man was made to sweat.
We don’t normally get to see that fretful side of Wilson’s persona. This is a guy who tried to get a ukulele band up and running within the squad at the last World Cup in England, a guy who said he wanted to name his young son Wilson – not Wilson Wilson, he explained, just Wilson, like, er, Ronaldinho – until his wife told him to button it, a player who once messaged a podcast to ask special guest, and qualified pilot, Stuart McInally, if he’d ever thrown a tangerine out of the window of his aeroplane.
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Wilson is a WISecracker, but last weekend was tricky – and madcap. “Honestly, my memory is so bad,” he says. “I can’t really remember how I was feeling before the squad was announced for the World Cup four years ago, but I can’t imagine I was as nervous as I was this time.
“Maybe it’s because I’m getting older [he’s 30]. I might cling on for the next one, you never know, but this one might be the last and that’s probably why I was so nervous. I was an absolute nightmare. When I picked up an injury before the game last week against Georgia I couldn’t do anything else [to iNFLuence selection] and that made me worse.”
Wilson is a smart Rugby player, a back-row forward with a skill-set almost as sharp as his tongue when noising up opponents. He’s not one of the modern-day monsters capable of blasting across the gain-line with a power that’s unplayable, but his mobility and pace and intelligence are integral to the way Townsend wants to play.
Why the anxiety about selection then? Others put themselves forward, no doubt about it. Magnus Bradbury has been out injured but some tipped him to make the cut nonetheless. Bradbury, at his best, is a powerful player. Matt Fagerson had his supporters, too. Wilson was genuinely concerned about getting culled in favour of those younger guns.
‘I celebrated with a cup of soup cooked on my little hob’
“I rented a Winnebago, against my wife’s WIShes, and said, ‘Right, we’re going away for the weekend’,” he explains. “We went to Ballater in Aberdeenshire, parking up in random car parks in the middle of nowhere. It was amazing, I loved it. I was up in the morning cooking eggs on the frying pan on the ol’ stove. It was an escape.
“If I hadn’t made the squad I’m not sure I was coming back. Nobody would have seen me. I would have just disappeared into the wilderness. I was stressing out about not making it. I had to get away, had to get my head out of thinking about it constantly at home.
“Coming back down the A9, the van swinging around in the wind, I got a call to tell me I was in. I pulled over at the side of the road and celebrated with a cup of soup, cooked it on my little hob, up by Gleneagles there. The sun finally came out. It was lovely.”
He phoned his dad. Now his dad is what can be euphemistically called a character. Ryan Wilson Snr comes with a reputation for boisterousness when following his son’s Rugby career.
“Put it this way, I fully expect a conversation with Gregor where he asks me to give him reassurances that dad isn’t staying in any of the team hotels,” says the Glasgow Warrior. “When I phoned him he started giving me a row because I hadn’t been in touch in a few days. I usually phone him every morning. ‘No call, no photos, nothing’, He had a bit of wine in him, I think. I said, ‘Hold on, dad, before we have an argument you should know that I made the squad. He was chuffed to bits.
“We’ll see if my old man makes it out. God help Japan if he gets there. I’m waiting for Toony to have a word with me, though. Any day now. ‘He’s not staying in our hotel, is he?”
In the intensity of a World Cup, where players live in each other’s pockets for weeks on end, you need characters of all kinds. Most of all you need the ones who can lift the mood with a bit of noise and nonsense. Wilson is the go-to man for entertainment.
“We’re away for a long time, six to eight weeks,” he says. “If everybody was like Fraser Brown we’d be in trouble. Sorry, Chuckles. Being together constantly for that length of time is hard, so it’s important to have a laugh and that’s a side I like to bring as much as possible.”
From camper van to captaincy in a week. From hiding out in Ballater to running out at Murrayfield. The proudest moment of a momentous week is almost upon him.