Enforcer on the park, joker in the pack off it, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend heaped praise on Ryan Wilson as the flanker prepares to captain his country for the first time in tonight’s final World Cup warm-up match against Georgia at BT Murrayfield.
It is the perfect end to what has been a tense time for the 30-year-old, who was one of the key calls in the ultra-competitive back-row position when Townsend confirmed his final 31 for the flight to Japan earlier in the week.
“He was saying his farewells to everyone last Tuesday night [before the squad left for their 44-10 win in Tbilisi],” said Townsend with a smile.
“We had one-to-one meetings before we headed to Georgia. He left the meeting with us saying ‘anything else for me?’ and we said ‘no’. We could hear him outside the meeting room saying ‘this might be me guys, that’s me, I just want to say bye now’.
“Whether we had decided or not decided we were going to be fair to our players, we were going to wait until the weekend to get a phone call saying whether you were in or out of the group.
“Ryan did really well in the French game [a 17-14 win at BT Murrayfield two weeks ago]. You appreciate Ryan when he’s here and when he’s not you realise what he brings to the group.”
Townsend knows Wilson well from his time as coach of Glasgow Warriors and the flanker was one of the key men in that famous and historic Pro12 final win over Munster back in 2015.
The Aldershot-born forward didn’t have the best end to the season, dropping out of favour despite being co-captain as Dave Rennie’s side reached the now Guinness Pro14 final, which they lost to Leinster at Celtic Park in May.
Townsend explained the value he feels Wilson brings to the squad and why he gave him the nod for Japan.
“During a week Ryan combines intelligence and talks really well about rugby aspects, he’s one of our tactical leaders,” said the coach.
“He brings an edge physically when he plays for Scotland, and outside of the rugby arena he’s excellent to keep the energy and the mood a positive one. Last Monday night it was him organising everyone to play the game they play ‘Mafia’ [a modern-day Call My Bluff-style party game].
“To have someone in the group who thinks about rugby but also the harmony of the group is important. All those things are great but you’ve got to play well to get yourself into the 31 and he did that against France.
“I’m looking forward to him being captain. He’s one of our leaders even when he’s not captain or vice-captain, he’s someone who will put 100 per cent into this game and he’ll lead by example.”
Wilson, who has recovered from a minor knee knock which kept him out of the trip to Georgia, expressed pride at being handed the honour on what will be his 45th cap.
“The captaincy is a massive thing for me. It’s a step up from club level, a real honour and not many people get to do it. I was chuffed to bits when Toony told me,” he said.
“He told me the morning after we knew about the [31-man World Cup squad]. We sat down in the meeting and just before it he called me up. I went up and said ‘bloody hell, you’ve not made a mistake have you?’ He laughed and said no, he wanted me to be captain this weekend.” Wilson’s ferocious and physical approach on the field may not mark him out as a natural jester but insists he embraces the role.
“It’s important. We are there [in Japan] six to eight weeks living on top of each other and it can be hard at times to keep the spirits high, so having a laugh is important,” he said.
“It’s a serious thing we are doing, we are going to the World Cup and want to compete at the highest level but you can’t be just solely focused on rugby, you have to be able to switch off.
“Part of my role and the way I see it is that when you are off the field and you are not talking about rugby, you have got to have a laugh and that is how our group gets closer. You bond by making special memories.
“I can’t stand being alone. I’m used to the kids being there when I get home and being around with the boys. Anyone will tell you if the wife and kids are away then I will be on the phone to anyone and everyone sleeping in other boys’ houses, I hate it. It is perfect for me. Some guys like their own space but it’s not for me.”