With Covid forcing a recruitment freeze and limited preparation time, Wilson and his Warriors team spent a large chunk of last season on the back foot. There were some grim experiences along the way but to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” in the world of professional sport. The squad grew tighter from the experience of battling adversity together, and several youngsters got the chance to come of age. While Edinburgh ended their season in disarray (ultimately costing Richard Cockerill his job), Warriors finished up with four wins on the bounce.
Now, Wilson has been given the budget for an aggressive recruitment drive this close season which has seen him bring in more than a half-a-dozen internationalists from across the globe, and the coach also believes that having two players in Ali Price and Zander Fagerson involved in this summer’s Lions tour to South Africa will also have a galvanising effect on the squad.
“I think both players have gained massive experience through just training, playing and preparing with that type and level of player, as well as going against the opposition they were up against,” he said. “I know Ali picked up the Test opportunities and played extremely well to establish himself as the best No.9 on the tour, and it is a shame Zander didn’t get an opportunity at that level, but we also know that tightheads often mature when they are a bit older.
“They are both going to come back with brilliant experiences, loads of learnings. Hopefully they will pass that on to our boys because that will benefit everyone massively.”
The two Lions are now being given four or five weeks off and Wilson insisted he will not be rushing them straight back into action when they do eventually return from holiday. However, just having them around the place during training and in the build-up to matches will be a boost. “They will be back for us before they go off again to play in the autumn internationals,” promised the coach.
“I wasn't massively optimistic 12 months ago, but as of this week we are back up to around 30 players in training and it is a good group.
“We are missing our three Argentinian boys who are playing in the Rugby Championship, we are missing the two Lions boys, we have a couple returning from operations and stuff like that, and Josh McKay is not in the building yet because he is still playing out in New Zealand, so when those seven or eight players come back in we will have a full squad, and I'm obviously really excited about that.
“There are a couple of positions where we are maybe going to be a little bit skinny in the first block of the season. I think we’ll have to use one or two of our academy boys in the pre-season game against Newcastle Falcons, but that is a great opportunity for them, and we’ll build from there.”