Jack Willis: England’s forgotten man

COVENTRY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Jack Willis of Wasps breaks clear during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Round 2 match between Wasps and Agen at The Ricoh Arena on November 23, 2019 in Coventry, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

On May 19 2018, young Wasps flanker Jack Willis was preparing to play in his first Premiership semi-final. However, late in the first half his hopes of playing a further role was halted due to a serious knee injury.

Yet, not playing the rest of the semi-final was not the most heartbreaking aspect of his injury. Willis had been recently named in England’s squad to tour South Africa by Eddie Jones. This came after the 21-year-old had had a spectacular breakthrough season, becoming a regular fixture in the Wasps side.

Had this injury not occurred and a certain Tom Curry hadn’t taken his place, it could have gone very differently.

A long road back

The young flanker, now 23, was initially ruled out for 12 months but faced a battle with a number of other injuries to get back to full fitness.

The Englishman made a brief comeback in March 2019 but would suffer further setback with a injury to his left ankle.

Willis has finally managed to hit a run of games and form for Wasps and is thankful to everyone who has helped him on his journey back.

Wasps have had a number of players suffer serious injuries over the past couple of seasons, with Alex Reider and Marcus Garrett retiring due to their personal struggles. Long-term injuries can have detrimental effects on a players mental health and mental strength but Willis insists it was his environment that played a big part.

“It was very tough. You love playing rugby so you’re missing out on one of the things you love doing but I had a great group of lads around me.

“Unfortunately, they’d also had some serious injuries and Alex Reider had to retire from his, Marcus Garrett also. We called ourselves the three knee gang, unfortunately I’m the only one standing now. They went through some really tough times but they also put a smile on my face with their jokes and humour so credit to those boys for keeping me sane.” Said Willis.

Recent injury woes

When Willis came back from serious injury for the second time this season and began to get a run of games together, he was struck by a freak injury.

During a training session he suffered a laceration injury on his leg in which it was torn open.

Willis goes into further detail, saying:

“I landed on a stud in training. I’ve gone to make a tackle, he’s broken through abit and I’ve landed on his stud facing up.

“I felt it and thought ‘that felt weird’ and looked down and could see straight down into my knee,” said the 23-year-old.

“It was a bit of a panic and I just grabbed it and held it together and then Dai helped drag me off the pitch as I right next to him when I did it. A few hours later I was getting it all stitched up.” 

Thankfully the injury has recovered now but had further issue with the cut.

“The laceration took a couple of weeks and the scars started to heal but we had something else pop up with an infection that I had to have cleared out but it’s all under control now.”

The future

Willis is not looking too far ahead however and is just focusing on playing well for his club side this season, saying: “For me, I’m just chuffed to be back on the field. I spent a long time off of it.”

The flanker has been showing glimpses of the form that won him many admirers in the 2017-18 season. He has been showing his great natural ability at the breakdown and is towards the top of the turnover stats so far.

Willis wants to keep his form going and hope it can bring results for his side, saying: “Each week its just about trying to improve the things that I want to.

“After each game I go back and go through it and I’m loving it and loving being back out there and Dai’s given me the opportunities to play each week which is brilliant.” Said Willis.

Wasps have had a number of youngsters come through into the senior squad such as Jacob Umaga and Thibaud Flament this season. Willis spoke about the importance of these players that have help drive his own efforts to be in the starting side week in week out.

“I think it’s brilliant, it just drives the competitiveness of the squad. Seeing those young lads come through, myself included a couple of years ago, it’s something you know you’ve got to fight for and play well to stay in the squad as a young player.

“You need to take your opportunity, you get so much desire from every young lad coming in and it’s really driving everyone to be better.” 

Willis and Wasps will be looking to make up for Sunday’s late defeat to 13-man Northampton Saints as they face Agen away as they go back into the European Challenge Cup.

 

“Main photo credit”

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