Club rugby: Wilson makes mark on wing

By Kelly Exelby

There's still plenty to learn but all the evidence so far points to converted loose forward Jack Wilson making a decent fist of his switch out to wing for the Bay of Plenty Steamers this season.

The 22-year-old will front for reigning champions Te Puke Sports in tomorrow's PGG Wrightson Baywide premier showdown with leading Rotorua club side Rotoiti at Tauranga Domain, fresh off a game-changing 90-metre solo effort last weekend at Murray Salt Stadium that killed off Opotiki's resistance.

Wilson, born and bred in the Te Puke area but transplanted from Christchurch this season, downplayed Saturday's withering burst up the right-hand touchline, saying after a grinding first half in which the hot favourites failed to subdue Opotiki, he "just got the ball and ran".

Wilson is a rare breed, a forward who has made the move out into double digits, following hot on the heels of injured Bay of Plenty left wing Jason Hona, who is also a converted loosie.

He's a special project for new Steamers coaching duo Kevin Schuler and John Walters and is still coming to grips with the nuances of wing play, although raw speed has never been an issue.

Wilson got a scholarship to Auckland private school Kings College after he finished at Te Puke Intermediate and spent his last two years in the first XV alternating between flanker and hooker. A move south to Christchurch to study at Canterbury University prompted another move to No8.

But it was a speed test at a New Zealand sevens camp at Mt Maunganui that first opened the door to a move into the backline, with Wilson scorching the floor at TECT Arena, clocking 4.3sec over 40m and piquing the interest of national coach Gordon Tietjens.

"He was quick, the quickest or second-quickest in the squad," Tietjens said this week. "He came to me as a flanker who was at that stage playing for a lot of invitation (sevens) sides overseas, where one of his traits was a lovely in-out, beating guys quite easily.

"The pace factor being a forward interested me, combined with his size and physique, and having someone that quick coming into the forwards was ideal."

Wilson got his chance in March at the Hong Kong sevens, hauled into Tietjens' squad when Lote Raikabula failed a fitness test. A couple of long-range efforts signalled his arrival, although Tietjens cautioned that positionally there would be plenty to take in. "I've always seen Jack as a pretty good loose forward. Victor Vito went out to the wing after I threw him out there because of his size, power and pace, but obviously he's now switched back to the fowards, but Roy Kinikinilau was another loosie who went to the wing, stayed there and got quite good at it.

"Physically he'll handle it and if I told him to run up the Mount seven times he'd do it, so work ethic's no problem."

Wilson is relishing having No14 on his back but overseas commitments have meant he's played in only half of Te Puke's Baywide games this season.

"So far it's going good and with a few games under my belt it's getting more comfortable. I was open minded coming back to the Bay and switching to the wing but I gave myself the first half of the season - if I was enjoying it I'd carry on, if not then I'd re-assess things.

"Playing outside guys like Cash (Nick McCashin), Rollo (Simon Rolleston) and Wardy (Ben Ward), all good distributors, means I'm getting a lot of pill so it's good times."

Walter has given Wilson freedom to follow his instincts and work hard off the ball, especially when the flanker tendencies kick in. After making it as far as the Canterbury under-19 side it's a clean slate back in his home province.

"I loved university life in Canterbury and the good footy down there, but it's special to be back at Te Puke Sports and it'll be special this year to pull on a Bay jersey."

Before that eventuates there's a club final to be won - how remarkable would it be if Te Puke Sports backed up after last year's victory, the greatest day in the club's history after 20 years of trying to win the Baywide championship?

Titles aren't won in the changing shed or on paper and if there's one thing Rotoiti's upset 13-10 semifinal defeat of Tauranga Sports showed it's that fronting with the right attitude will be an important piece of the championship puzzle. "They'll be pumped and good on them. Rotoiti are a bloody good team," Wilson said. "Last weekend was a good wake-up call for us because we've gone through the season beating some teams by quite large numbers, but the last few weeks it's been tight wins to put our feet back on the ground. Maybe Tauranga got a bit ahead off themselves, I don't know, but everyone's vulnerable if they don't turn up in the right frame of mind.

"In saying that I don't think it's going to be too hard for any of the boys to get themselves up for a final."

PGG Wrightson Baywide club rugby finals day (Tauranga Domain)

Field one:

11am: Colts - Tauranga Sports v Te Puna.

1pm: Division one - Rangiuru v Paroa.

3pm: Premier - Te Puke Sports v Rotoiti.

Field two:

11.30am: Senior reserve - Tauranga Sports v Whakarewarewa.

2.45pm: Division two - Katikati v Arataki.

Premier teams

Te Puke Sports (from): Mo Broughton, Nathan Harris, Mark Nicolaas, Isaac Takai, Beau King, Michael Hinaki, Luke Perrott, Ryan Lambert, Jamie Nutbrown, Nich McCashin (capt), Gideon Uelese, Simon Rolleston, Ben Ward, Jack Wilson, Sipa Moimoi, Jacob Hawke, George Oram, John Corbett, Andy Lee, Rameka Poihipi, Chub Hale, Tukaha Carter. Coach: Craig Jeffries. Assistant coach: Leo Scott.

Rotoiti (from): Nicky Nepia, Willie Royal, Cory Marsters, Joe Gotz, Wayne Ormond, Rob McCann, David Fraser, Jesse Acton, Curtis Van Der Hayden, Whakataki Cunningham, Willie Seywell, Beau Kiel, Josefata Tawake, MaNasa Bole, Matt Landers, Major Nelson, Paddy Grundy, Tute Malcolm, Wiremu Ruru, Api Te Kiri, Joe Fenton, Glen Martin. Coach: Wayne Ormond.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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