Saturday 21 October 2017

Wilkinson eager to grasp big chance in an Irish jersey and bring six-year plan to fruition

Brett Wilkinson has been one of Connacht's most consistent performers over the past few years and now he will get a chance to impress for Ireland
Brett Wilkinson has been one of Connacht's most consistent performers over the past few years and now he will get a chance to impress for Ireland

Hugh Farrelly

HE'S been knocking around Ireland squads since 2009, done his bit for the 'A' side and has become one of Connacht's most consistent performers over the last six years, but this is the week that defines Brett Wilkinson's career.

Tom Court's fractured thumb has created a gap in the Ireland squad to tour New Zealand, while the grade one tear suffered and, assuming he comes through tomorrow night's warm-up clash with the Barbarians at Kingsholm, Wilkinson will be on the plane.

This was always part of the plan, the reason he pitched up from Cape Town in 2006 and, though he remains a proud South African, the 28-year-old has made Ireland his home and is driven to represent his adopted country on the rugby pitch.

"When I came over here in 2006, I was here for the long haul," said Wilkinson.

"I wanted to play international rugby, that was my dream, and when I came over as a 22-year-old, the one thing I said was that I was going to give it a proper go, give it my all and work hard.

"Growing up in South Africa, I remember the 1995 World Cup final and I was very passionate for South Africa but Ireland has become a second home for me.

"I really feel part of the system, part of everything and if I do get the chance to wear the Irish jersey, it will be a huge privilege for me."

With Cian Healy and Mike Ross the established first-choice props, Wilkinson is battling Declan Fitzpatrick for a place on the bench against New Zealand. With international rugby still adhering to the a seven sub rule (set to increase to eight), the need for a prop who can cover both sides of the scrum remains paramount.

Wilkinson is a specialist loose-head but has played tight-head in the past and now, conscious of how it could progress his international aspirations, is putting in extra time to properly come to grips with the role.

"It (tight-head) doesn't come naturally," admitted Wilkinson.

"They are very different roles, loose-head and tight-head props, I wouldn't say I worked on it massively in the past but I am working towards it now.

"I wouldn't be that comfortable playing tight-head but with a little practice and coaching from the likes of Greg Feek, and Dan McFarland in Connacht, I am going to work on that and see what happens, because certainly it is a good trait in a player to play both sides.

Techniques

"It's just two different techniques -- on the loose-head you're trying to keep your head up and not get pinned down whereas a tight-head is trying to lock the scrum down.

There are players who can do both, Martin Castrogiovanni and others... John Smit is another who can play across the whole front-row but it is a tough ask.

"A lot of it is mental but strength counts, not to take a backward step, a lot of it is technique and there is great technical advice coming through in Ireland now, it's about digesting all of that."

Wilkinson certainly has the strength covered at just over six feet and 18 and-a-half stone, and though he played as a scrum-half and flanker in his formative years, the move to the front-row was the logical decision as he began to fill out.

Now, after an unheralded but worthy stint in Connacht, Wilkinson is at a point in his career where he is ready to kick on and bring his six-year plan to fruition.

"This Barbarians game is a massive opportunity, and who knows what will happen?

"I don't think that far down the line, it's an opportunity for a lot of guys who have caps and some who don't have caps, to put their best foot forward."

A step which should take Brett Wilkinson onto the plane for New Zealand.

Irish Independent

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