Jack Willis has revealed the mind trick he has played on himself to enable his game to flourish to such an extent that many Premiership fans are clamouring for the Wasps back row to be called up to Eddie Jones’ England squad.
The 23-year-old had his first selection by England ruined in 2018, a Premiership tackle shortly after he was included for the tour to South Africa taking a devastating toll on his body and preventing him from being the best he could be for around 18 months.
Just over two years on from that brutal setback, he is enjoying the form of his life in putting his body back in without hesitation to where it hurts at the breakdown. The reason? He constantly reminds himself that his injury was caused by a tackle and not when jackalling.
Speaking to The Rugby Pod, the weekly show fronted by Andy Goode and Jim Hamilton, Willis explained the reason why he has no fear contesting the breakdown. “If I had done it jackalling it might have been different,” he said.
“I did it in a tackle and because at the time I was battling, the left ankle was really painful and what happened was I was putting more weight on my right leg. It suddenly got caught in a tackle.
Lee Blackett has delivered a medical bulletin following the extraordinary Bank Holiday game https://t.co/oxlQMhj7iQ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 2, 2020
“I put that in the forefront of my mind, that without the ankle the knee wouldn’t have happened. Whether it is true or not it’s nice to have that in my head. For me, I wouldn’t be able to stick myself in those positions, stick my head in there if I was thinking about it too much.
“As soon as you’re in the game it’s instinct and trying to get your head in there. I do a lot of mobility work to try and help me out when getting caught in uncomfortable positions. I have got a bit of a get-out with extra hip mobility etc. Yeah, I try not to keep it at the forefront of my mind going into games.”
The rejuvenation of Willis is one of the main reasons why Wasps have enjoyed a playoff-chasing resurgence under new boss Lee Blackett, manoeuvring the young back row into the debate as to who should make the England squad for the resumption of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and the one-off Eight Nations tournament set to be played before the year is over.
“When I had those injuries in 2018 it was a bit of a rollercoaster, getting named in the squad and a few weeks later injuring my ankle and my knee and then, all in all, spent not far off 18 months out and three operations later got back playing.
“It was tough, really tough, and the group I had around me, family, friends, got me through it. I’ve always had a passion and a drive and a desire to play for England one day. Sort of came pretty close by getting named in the squad and it wasn’t my time unfortunately with having the injury.
“I don’t think I’d change anything really. It gave me a really nice perspective of the game and life in rugby that you can’t get yourself too caught up in it all the time because you end up burning yourself out. So now I have definitely got a fresh perspective of it.
“I’m very grateful for every minute I get to spend on the pitch and yeah, look, it’s still a massive aim of mine, a dream since I was a young lad to try and put an England shirt on at some point but it’s never going to come if I’m not playing well for Wasps. That is my main focus.”
"They are telling me you’re a confident hooker. If you’re not confident I’ll order uncontested scrums… make a decision"https://t.co/uKnV7dD6mu
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 1, 2020
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now