As joint top try-scorer in the Aviva Premiership in 2012/2013, and still uncapped by England, the calls for Christian Wade to receive international recognition were becoming deafening by the time the end of the season came around. So when he made his first – long overdue – appearance on a Stuart Lancaster teamsheet, nobody was all that surprised. When Lions coach Warren Gatland came calling, however, there were some raised eyebrows – not least from the man himself.
“It was huge,” says Wade, understatedly. “I was preparing for the second test (for England v Argentina) and Stuart Lancaster knocked on my door and gave me the information, then said the taxi’s arriving in two hours to take you to the airport.”
And that was that. A short 23-hour flight later, Wade was a Lion. While he only featured in one game – the ill-fated loss to the Brumbies – he is quick to point out that the experience as a whole was definitely a positive one. Would he perhaps have been better served staying on with England and playing another match with England? Possibly, but in experience terms a Lions tour is second to none.
“I can’t really say if I’d have been better served staying (with England) – I can’t really look at it that way. For me, it was just great to get the experience, and I was just happy to be out there, trying to learn as much as I could from the greats over there. As soon as I got there, I could feel the culture. Everyone was there as a squad, everyone was there for each other. Watching that last game unfold – it was the best experience, seeing all the hard work pay off.
“My time in Argentina was important as well, so all in all it will just add to my experience as a player, and hopefully it’ll enhance my game this year. It can only do me good to have been on a Lions tour.”
Back on home soil, the new friendships built on tour should add an extra sprinkling of spice to a season already resplendent with rivalries.
“It will certainly add a little bit more, now we know each other. When you know your opposition on a personal level, it definitely adds to the excitement and the enjoyment a bit more.”
Looking back at last season, Wade speaks of the frustration of forfeiting a potential play-off place and eventually ending up mid-table – not an especially bad result, when you consider they were 80 minutes away from relegation the a year earlier.
“I was happy with how we went, especially at the start of the season, and there was that point when we reached the top four and we could have pushed on, but we didn’t. I think the whole team felt disappointed that we didn’t – we were going for a certain goal, and because we’d achieved that we felt we could probably relax, and take our foot off the pedal a bit.
This year Wade insists the same mistakes will not be made, and pre-season has been even more gruelling than ever to ensure standards are kept high all season.
“If we can sustain that (early season form) – and I think we’ll be able to, with the work we’re putting in in pre-season – we’ll be able to carry that through the whole season, and not just the first half. We know we have the potential, and it’s just about putting that onto the pitch.”
Last season saw Wade finish joint-top try scorer with teammate Tom Varndell, forming comfortably the most lethal wing partnership in the league. This year Wade is looking to one-up his clubmate and claim that title outright, taking bragging rights around the club in the process.
“We’re not necessarily that competitive, but obviously at the end of it if one of us comes out on top we’ll be pretty chuffed. We’re good friends off the pitch and that carries onto it. We play well together, we enjoy playing together.”
Sadly for spectators, in the professional age wingers of Wade’s ilk – diminutive, nippy, however you want to describe them – are becoming a rare breed, caught up in a tidal wave of six-foot-plus behemoths. So for someone of Wade’s stature to be making such a success of his game is a breath of fresh air, especially when he reveals there were times he was told he was too small to make it in the game. Wade’s example is an important one for young wingers everywhere.
“I think it’s important to an extent – I think a lot of younger players probably think they’re too small, or they get told they’re too small, and they believe it. I think if you enjoy the game, and you work hard at the basics, you’ll be able to take it far.
“When I first started I didn’t get picked because of my size, but I didn’t take much notice of that. But as a winger, what’s my job? Regardless of my size, it’s my job to score tries, so if I’m doing that there’s no reason I can’t be in the team.”
And scoring tries he has been – 13 last season in the Premiership alone, there will undoubtedly be many more this year in not only the black of Wasps but, hopefully, the white of England also.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images
Christian Wade was speaking on behalf of Maximuscle, the sports nutrition product of choice for elite and amateur rugby players. Maximuscle have launched a Reward Scheme to help amateur rugby clubs raise their game, for more information visit www.maximuscle.com/grassroots