Sunday 4 December 2016

Talented recruit keen to reward Munster's faith in him

Outside back primed for big chance after emerging from club and academy game

Daragh Small

Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30

Alex Wotton: bright future
Alex Wotton: bright future

Despite a win over Old Belvedere on the final day of the season, Garryowen were at their lowest ebb in 2014. Relegation to Division 1B had created a sense of disillusionment around the club and youngster Alex Wootton was left to ponder his future.

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It was not the first crossroads in his career, but perhaps the most defining when he chose to stick with the Limerick outfit in their time of need. The full-back was hot property in the Ulster Bank League at the time but he chose loyalty over a move back to the top flight.

Young Munster declared their interest, and it was the general consensus that playing rugby in 1B would be detrimental to the career of one of the rising talents in the Munster academy ranks.

The Englishman had just come to terms with life at Dooradoyle, it was his home and with a heavy heart he decided that Young Munster would be his next port of call. But on his way to complete the deal he answered a phone call that would push his career back in the right direction.

"It got to the point where it wasn't enjoyable because we were losing most weeks, and you hear about all of the glory days of Garryowen in the past.

"I remember sitting down at the end of the season with the Garryowen and Munster academy coaches and just thinking: 'Being in 1B, is it the best for my rugby going forward?'

"Young Munster were in 1A, and the academy coach said to me: 'It's your call'. I was in the car then on the way to sign the transfer over to Young Munster and Seamus McDermott called me.

"He basically persuaded me not to move, I was feeling a bit sceptical about the move myself because I had just settled down in Garryowen.

"And that pushed me over the edge. So I turned the car around and I went home thinking I had made the right decision," says Wootton.

He went on to claim the player of the season accolade at the end of 2014-'15 while Garryowen finished second in Division 1B and were promoted after a win over St Mary's in the Division 1A play-off.

Wootton was back on form, and his club side were back in business; now all he had to do was force his way into the Munster set-up but that date was slowed due to injury.

Wootton grew up in England, but was of Irish heritage. His great grandmother Amy Eileen Goucher was from Kildare. Her daughter, Patricia Ruth Burden, moved to Down before Wootton's father, Andrew, ended up in Belfast and eventually crossed over to Macclesfield.

NURSERY

Wootton spent his childhood there and was always destined to play rugby as he grew up next door to the local rugby team. When he chose rugby over soccer, he went to the nursery in Sedbergh School - former home to Phil Dowson and James Simpson-Daniel.

"I always wanted to be a professional rugby player but I never understood what it took, until I got to boarding school and I could see the older guys that were getting academy contracts from the big clubs.

"At the time it was a bit of shock to the system because I was thinking: 'Do I have to do all of this?' But then when things started to go well I began to reap the rewards.

"When there are people around you saying that you are doing well. That makes you want to pursue it more again."

While at Sedbergh he was part of the Sale Sharks Elite Player Development Group. But when the Sharks ran into financial trouble he had to look elsewhere. And after a failed attempt with Wasps, he signed an academy contract with Northampton Saints.

At the time he was playing representative rugby for England but his heritage gave him the option to play for Ireland also. And he wore green at the 2014 Junior World Championships in New Zealand.

"I played England U-16s and a couple of age-groups on the way up. But it goes straight to U-20s - there is no U-19s. I was a year early, the English coach came down to watch Northampton against Leicester and I didn't get the call-up after the game.

"From the Irish side of things I got in touch with Mike Ruddock fairly quickly after I didn't get called up. And he told me to come over for a trial game in Dublin.

"I grabbed that with both hands, played well in the trial game, met a great bunch of lads, and never looked back from there really.

"When Munster came calling I went for it and it turned out to be a great decision," he says.

Wootton spent three years in the Munster academy before he signed the development deal to move into the professional ranks this summer. The move could have come earlier had he not sprained a joint and fractured a bone in his left foot before Christmas last year.

But he says everything has shaped him for the big move to the senior grade. And all he has to do is deliver on the tremendous potential he has shown so far.

"I'm absolutely delighted to get the new contract, considering I was basically injured from the beginning of the season. Around Christmas time I was thinking, 'Was it going to happen?'

"But Munster have a great faith in my ability and my capability. So that was great to get pulled in and told what the situation was," he adds.

Irish Independent

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