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Welsh rugby enveloped in its latest existential crisis

As Wayne Pivac teeters on the edge of finding new gainful employment after a series of disappointing results, the wider-lens story tells of dysfunction and frustration

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'I think he is at peace with it now, he struggled for a few weeks'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

New Newcastle director of rugby Dave Walder has explained how ex-England back-rower Mark Wilson has taken to coaching in his first few months as an assistant looking after contact skills and assisting with defence. The 32-year-old’s world was turned upside down last February when he quit playing with immediate effect just weeks after making his sole appearance of the season on January 29.

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Problems with his knee forced him out and Dean Richards, the Falcons DoR at the time, summed up the depression the news caused. “I hate talking about people being retired, it’s as though you have written him off in his life. It sounds f***in’ terrible,” he said.

It was mid-May, amid rumours that Wilson could join the Newcastle coaching staff, when Dave Walder, who was being promoted from head coach to DoR for the 2022/23 campaign, provided an update on how the 2019 World Cup finalist had been coping with life as a retired player.

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Like anyone it hit him like a bit of a train, he took a bit of time away and started training for duathlons and physically he is in good shape. His knee is still giving him struggles but he has realised that in the life of a coach you can stand around, you don’t have to run around.”

At the time, Walder couldn’t confirm if Wilson was definately joining his Newcastle management ticket but having assisted England Students and at the local Ryton club, it was eventually confirmed that the back-rower capped 23 times by England was indeed coming back to the Falcons in a very different capacity.

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Ahead of the new season Gallagher Premiership opener versus Harlequins this Saturday at Kingston Park, Walder provided RugbyPass with an update on how Wilson has coped with the tricky transition from player to coach at such a young age. “Brilliant. What you see is what you get with Mark Wilson. He is Mr Positive, full of energy, he has got an unbelievable work ethic which is like he had when he played and he has also got that link with the players having captained the group last year.

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“There are a lot of guys still in the group who he is very familiar with, so he has got a link with it but fundamentally he is just a good bloke who is very proud of the region and works incredibly hard and is always very, very positive.”

He surely had some dark days, though, in the immediate aftermath of hanging up the boots seven months ago and transitioning into his new job. “I think he is at peace with it now. He struggled with it in the first couple of weeks in pre-season. We had a couple of tough sessions where the boys were on top of Cow Hill having done a hill session.

“The more experienced coaches were quite glad we were at the top of the hill watching the players run up it whereas Mark was angling to run down and join in with them. That is something I still find as a coach, you don’t ever get used to not having that camaraderie of playing, being with the playing group and being on the pitch.

“It is different and it does take time to get over it but over the last three or four weeks, he has got peace with it and he is in a really good place. He is doing a brilliant job and has got a great rapport with the players, has got some brilliant ideas and has been a breath of fresh air for our coaching team.”

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For years, Wilson was the sole Falcons presence when it came to England representation and while that has changed in recent times with the emergence of the likes of Jamie Blamire, it will surely be beneficial for Newcastle to have got him back involved given he is such a recognisable figure in the north-east region.

“The club is always built around people from the area,” continued Walder. “People are very proud to represent the area and Mark best summed that up when he signed for Sale on loan during the season we were in the Championship, when his name came up playing for England he didn’t want to be a Sale player he wanted to be a Newcastle player.

“That shows how much the club means to Mark and how proud he is of the club. We have also got other people on the coaching team, Micky Ward has been here for what probably feels like 50 years, he has been here for years.

“I’m coming up to 20 years at the club, Mark Laycock must be 15, 18 years, so there is a real group of coaches who have been here for a long time who know how the club ticks. Hopefully, we can impart that a bit on the players.”

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