Saturday 21 April 2018

'It's nice to get on the scoresheet and make a statement'

The Big Interview: Alex Wootton

Alex Wootton in relaxed mood during training in the University of Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Alex Wootton in relaxed mood during training in the University of Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Such was his sharp start to the season that it came as a surprise when Alex Wootton wasn't one of the two try-scorers for Munster at Liberty Stadium in Round 3. But he was the one combining with Simon Zebo to prevent a certain try for Ospreys in the last play.

The 23-year-old versatile winger has had an extraordinary campaign so far in 2017-'18, and after two tries in seven games of his debut season last term, Wootton has already notched five tries in his three games this time round.

The highlight came on September 9 when he scored an astonishing four tries in 41 minutes against Cheetahs before he was replaced by Ireland international Zebo, who came onto the field after a delayed return to action following his Ireland tour.

But Wootton had already made his impressive statement - he was the first Munster player to score four tries in a game since Mike Mullins did likewise against Caerphilly in 2001.

And on that back of that display he kept his place for their massive clash with Ospreys last weekend, where Munster edged a narrow 21-16 victory.

"That's what my job is as a winger, scoring tries. In the modern day it's different, the wingers turn up in the midfield working off their wing and all that. But the old saying says a winger's job is scoring so it's like a striker in football," says Wootton.

"It's nice to get on the scoresheet and make a statement. But there's also plenty of other things that help make a statement too."

And a full pre-season was a huge contributory factor to Wootton improving so vastly on the pitch, something he hasn't had the experience of before.

"Pre-season was good. I enjoyed it, it was my first full proper pre-season. When I first came out of school I was with the U-20s for two years which meant I was coming late into pre-season, a month in," he says.

"And then I was with the Sevens for two years which ate into the pre-season as well. This is actually the fittest I have felt going into a season. There are no excuses and I am feeling pretty good.

"Last year I had a few injuries but now it's about being comfortable around the new systems the coaches have put in place, getting used to the new faces. Being comfortable around the guys, on the field experiencing pressurised game-time.

"The most pressurised game I experienced last year was the Ulster game away when Rory Scannell scored the late drop-goal. You get to know people quite well after being in situations like that on the field. In that sense I am feeling a lot more comfortable and I know what to expect.

Comfortable "Now it's just about putting my best foot forward for the team and I know that they will do the same for me. I am feeling a lot more comfortable in the environment that I am in.

"When you are being comfortable you are not being complacent, but when you feel comfortable around team-mates and coaches and they know what you can do, then that allows you to do that on the field."

Despite feeling comfortable in a Munster squad that have been in stunning form at the start of this season, there is still the impending departure of their director of rugby to contend with before the New Year.

Rassie Erasmus will head back to South Africa along with Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber but Wootton explains why he doesn't expect a fall-off in the standards of the Guinness PRO14 Conference A leaders. "Rassie sat us down and explained the situation for us. We know his heart is in it until the end and that's all we can ask for and we know that Munster Rugby and whoever is on the board will select the right person for the job," adds Wootton.

"Rassie, Jacques, Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery are putting things in place which will work out well for us down the line when the changeover happens. All of the players are coming in line with what we want to do.

"It could just be something like meeting up with a team-mate for a coffee and talking through tactics. Even stuff off the field. Rassie has created a machine which has taken over and it's working by itself. He is pointing us in the right direction but it is like a well-oiled machine."

Wootton grew up just down the road from the Macclesfield rugby club and began playing with them before he played rugby at school in Sedburgh and then on to the Sale Sharks Elite Player Development Squad.

He had a disappointing experience with Wasps but joined up with Northampton Saints and then Munster came calling, where he spent three years in the academy before signing a development deal.

Wootton is now on the brink of being a first-team regular and having featured for England and Ireland at underage level, he wants to wear green again in the future.

"Ireland is a long-term goal. When I first spoke to the academy and IRFU, when I first came over that was the end goal. But there is a lot of small goals to be put there before the end goal," says Wootton.

"It is starting to work itself out a little bit. I am working with internationals like Zebo and Keith Earls. I just learn off both of them and even guys who aren't in the international set-up, hopefully I can take bits from all of them and put my own twist on it.

"The green jersey would be the pinnacle, I just have to establish myself in a Munster jersey first, stay grounded and take it from there."

Irish Independent

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