Mark Wilson has given Newcastle Falcons a timely boost ahead of Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership visit of Gloucester, with the club captain insisting he is fit and ready for action.
The 3pm Kingston Park kick-off could see Wilson making his first appearance of the season, with the Rugby World Cup finalist fully recovered from an off-season operation on his knee.
“The main issue has been my existing knee injury, and I had an operation in the summer to take some meniscus out,” said Wilson, who has scored 42 tries in his 236 games for the Falcons.
“My rehab has been good, I was on course for my comeback date against Sale Sharks on Boxing Day and it was just bad luck more than anything else which has delayed things from there. A couple of niggly Covid issues, cancelled games and a head knock in training have set me back a few weeks, but I’m ready to go now and just hoping I can earn selection.”
Hoping to run out against the fourth-placed Cherry and Whites, the Cumbrian forward said: “Gloucester have had a real resurgence from last year.
“They’ve got a strong set-piece and some threatening players on the ball, so we know we’ll have our work cut out. We’re back at home, though, and we’re really excited to have the opportunity to perform in front of our own supporters again.
“It’s been a pretty disrupted few weeks in terms of games and training being cancelled, boys missing training due to isolation, last-minute decisions around going to France and all the rest of it, but we’re hoping to put that behind us now.
“I’m sure the lads will be dead excited about playing against Gloucester at home, just as I am, and that we can give our supporters a truer representation of what we’re about following a couple of disappointing defeats in the league.”
Delighted at the prospect to be finally playing without crowd restrictions, Wilson said: “I was involved in the two games at the back end of last season where we were allowed a limited number of fans against Northampton and Worcester, and it made a massive difference.
“The novelty of playing in front of empty stadiums lasted for about two seconds – it was just awful – and the atmosphere that even 1,500 could make in that Northampton game was absolutely unbelievable.
“I remember when Chidera Obonna scored the winner in front of the South Stand, and the fans who had come along just went crazy. It was just a reminder of why you get involved in sport, and what it means to people.
“I’m just excited to get out there again if I’m involved against Gloucester on Saturday, and the fans make such a difference. They bring a whole different level of excitement to the players, and having lost our last home game there’s obviously a massive desire within the group to show our supporters what we’re really about as a team.”
In the week that Falcons hooker Jamie Blamire joins up with England for their Six Nations training camp, the past year has also seen call-ups for club-mates Adam Radwan, Sean Robinson, Trevor Davison and Callum Chick.
“I’m delighted to see so many Falcons boys in and around that England picture, with Sean called up to the training squad before getting injured, and then the other four lads getting capped,” said Wilson, who has represented his country 23 times.
“It’s great for the club and is a real endorsement of what we’re doing, and those lads will have all benefited from the experience of being involved with England.”
Asked if he had been providing sage counsel to Newcastle’s red-rose brigade, he added: “International rugby is a real learning curve, and as much as I am always open and willing to pass on my experiences, I think a lot of it is just about finding out for yourself.
“It’s a good challenge for them, and all of those lads are really driven. Obviously Jamie will still be involved for the Six Nations preparation and the others will remain with us for the time being, but they’re all really hungry for it.
“They’ve just got to keep their heads down and keep on playing well for Newcastle, which to be honest is the biggest thing I learned. Sometimes you get all these work-ons and things which you’re told you have to do, but I found that if I just focused on being a good team player for Newcastle – that’s when you start getting selected.
“I think that’s what those boys did last year – they were stand-out players for us and got picked on merit. Even the guys who missed out this time will know they’re still in and around those discussions, and they’ve all got really bright futures.”
Aside from plotting his Falcons comeback, Wilson has also been putting his time to good use with the opening of a family business, explaining: “We moved into Ryton Old Village last summer, and for the last couple of years had been toying with the idea of opening up a coffee shop.
“When we moved there we thought it would be perfect because it used to be a busy little village, but there wasn’t much there. We opened the ‘No.6 Coffee House’ hoping it might bring the street to life a little bit, and the response we’ve had has been great.
“My wife Amy has been really supportive with my rugby while I’ve been spending long periods away from home over the past six or so years, bringing up our two children, and it’s nice now to be able to support her in this venture. She is doing a cracking job running the show, and all the local residents have been really good with us.
“My own involvement is pretty minimal, if I’m honest. I’m not behind the counter or anything like that, and I won’t be putting on a pinny anytime soon. I’m just the chief product tester, and doing a bit of quality control!”