Will Wilson the latest rugby star to come off the Dubai Exiles conveyor belt after making England Sevens debut

Matt Jones - Editor 08:29 09/04/2018
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  • Will Wilson (c) celebrates scoring a try for England against South Africa at the Hong Kong Sevens.

    There’s a friendly rivalry between the two nations’ popular sevens rugby tournaments, but there would have been plenty of keen eyes from Dubai on the weekend’s Hong Kong Sevens – where Olympic champions Fiji stormed to a fourth successive title.

    Simon Amor’s England underperformed at the seventh round of the 2017/18 World Rugby Sevens Series, where they only finished 15th, alongside minnows South Korea to earn a solitary point.

    But there would have been plenty of celebration 6,000 kilometres away in the UAE as a former Dubai Exiles player was making his international sevens bow for the Red Rose.

    It’s been some journey already for 21-year-old Will Wilson, who capped his England Sevens debut in the most famous sevens tournament on the planet – Dubai organisers might well have something to say about that – with two tries.

    Wilson, a traditional Number 8 who has come through the ranks at Oxford University and will become a fully-fledged member of Aviva Premiership side Wasps this summer – scored in a 47–7 blitz of Korea in the pool stages, before crossing the line in a 33-15 defeat to defending champions South Africa.

    That loss meant England missed out on automatic qualification to the leading Cup knockout competition, with Amor’s men suffering more heartache as they first lost 17-14 to Australia in the Challenge Trophy quarter finals before being beaten 33-10 by Samoa in the 13th placed play-off.

    Nevertheless, it would certainly have been another new experience to savour for Wilson, making the trip to Hong Kong amid Amor picking an inexperienced squad ahead of England’s participation at the Commonwealth Games Down Under next week.

    Wilson, an Oxford University student, has signed a contract with Wasps for next season.

    Wilson, an Oxford University student, has signed a contract with Wasps for next season.

    But his is a true rugby odyssey that all started in Dubai 16 years ago, where he first got into rugby as a five-year-old, learning his craft under the guise of current Exiles chairman Mike Wolff.

    “It was great to see Will go so well the first two days, especially against the Blitzbokke where he really brought his physicality to bear, culminating in finishing off a wonderful team try,” said Wolff, who fondly recalls introducing a much smaller version of Wilson to the game almost two decades ago.

    “I’ve know his family for over 30 years; to see him do so well brings lots of memories back for me, especially as a young Exiles player when he and the rest of his age group dominated their peers in the UAE club mini and youth scene for many years.

    “We are really proud of him. On the pitch and off it he is a great role model for all young Exiles players today. He works hard and deserves all the success and accolades heading his way.”

    Wilson was making his World Series bow alongside Charlie Spawforth, George Chatterton and Charlie Kingham in Hong Kong.

    And his breakthrough is another feather in the cap for a club that has a long tradition of moulding future talents.

    Brothers Jordan and Devante Onojaife have made varying impacts for England powerhouses Northampton Saints, with Jordan winning the 2014 World Under 20 Championship with England, while Devante recently switched allegiance to Scotland and was named in their Six Nations championship squad at the start of the year.

    Another club graduate is centre Tom Stapley, who left the Emirates in 2016 to seek a professional career with Ulster and earned selection for Ireland’s extended sevens training squad last year.

    Rory Arthur, 18, has broken into the senior side this year, while fellow teenager Tom Williams, also 18, starred alongside Arthur on his first team debut as Exiles went down 47-25 to Bahrain in the West Asia Cup final two weeks ago.

    “Exiles have produced a regular flow of young rugby stars who have gone on to do really well both here and overseas,” added Wolff.

    “As both an experienced rugby coach and a teacher, our director of rugby Jacques Benade has a great way with younger players.

    “We have successfully brought eight or nine schoolboys into senior Exiles rugby this past three years, and we are working hard using dedicated first team squad members to regularly coach our elder mini and youth teams to ensure they are getting the best possible rugby experience under his overall guidance at the club.

    “It is clearly paying off, given the number of Exiles teams reaching their finals in the UAE’s mini and youth leagues.”