Sunday 25 February 2018

Wootton sets sights on Ireland dream

Munster winger ready to stake his claim after seven tries in seven starts this season

Alex Wooton grew up in Macclesfield, where soccer dominated the sporting landscape, but ended up in Limerick playing rugby for Munster. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Alex Wooton grew up in Macclesfield, where soccer dominated the sporting landscape, but ended up in Limerick playing rugby for Munster. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Like many 12-year-olds, Alex Wootton was faced with the dilemma of having to choose one sport over another.

Given that the area he grew up in Macclesfield was dominated by soccer, Wootton might well have gone down a different route before ending up in Limerick.

The Munster winger has been a revelation this season but his breakthrough has by no means happened overnight.

Having come through the exiles system, the 23-year-old has had to bide his time as he waited for his chance but Rassie Erasmus certainly rated him.

The now-departed South African regularly name-checked Wootton and why wouldn't he, as last week, he took his try tally to seven in seven starts this season.

The days of mulling over the choice between soccer and rugby are long gone but Wootton knows it could so easily have worked out differently.

"I am from a village where a lot of footballers live, quite famous for the players who have homes there - Wayne Rooney, Wes Brown, I could name many more," he explains.

"Prestbury, it is quite a small village but a famous one. When I came to Ireland all the lads asked how big the village was and they seem to measure villages around here by the number of pubs it has in it!

"They have two pubs, so it is regarded as quite a small village to them. I moved over here straight away after school. I was speaking to my girlfriend about it the other day.

Progress

"When I first came here, I was in student accommodation, it is nice to see the progress I have been making. I was in a flat, now it is a house. It is nice to have that mini-kind of life over here.

"I played soccer until I was 12, I had to make a decision whether I would play soccer or rugby, as I was either going to go to a rugby school or a soccer one.

"There was a guy I used to play against called Duncan Watmore, he is at Sunderland now, I think. He is doing well.

"Sadly, one of my good friends, Josh Halvey, just passed away last week with cancer. He was unbelievable at football. He played for Stoke.

"A few guys I knew made it but obviously the population in the UK is ridiculous so you have people from all over the country who don't make it."

Wootton is Irish-qualified through his father who hails from Down but having spent the 2012-'13 season in Northampton Saints' Academy, England were sniffing around.

As he explains, however, choosing Ireland over England was one of the more easy career decisions he has had to make.

"Straight after school, my dad and family made me aware I could play for Ireland early on, so I knew it was always there. After I finished school, I went to Northampton for a year, and then at the time, I got in touch with Mike Ruddock who was the (Ireland) U-20 coach at the time.

"He brought me to the Junior World Cup and when I went to France, I spoke to someone in the IRFU, I think it was Colin McEntee, and he came up with a plan to put me in touch with a province.

"Munster came up and I snapped at it because of the history of the province, over in the UK everyone knows about Munster, it was an easy decision to come over."

Wootton has since played seven times for the Ireland U-20s as well as wearing green for the sevens team.

Playing with Garryowen in the All-Ireland League gave him a greater appreciation of what it means to play for Munster and while he certainly isn't getting ahead of himself just yet, he has his sights set on one day winning an international cap.

"To play for Munster is not just the love of the game, it is the love of Munster as well," Wootton adds.

Patient

"When I first came over, I was playing a lot for Garryowen, I learned a lot about Munster, and the more time I was here, the more patient I wanted to be, because this was the club I wanted to be at. It was an easy thing to do, just wait my time.

"This (month) was the first time I have watched international games and said to myself, 'This is where I want to be properly'.

"In the past I have watched them and been a bit of a supporter whereas this time I have been a bit gutted.

"That is the bigger picture. Obviously I have smaller goals in the path to get there. But that, 100pc, is the goal. That's what's driving me."

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