Alex Wootton making the most of more playing time at Connacht

‘We are still gaining experience. Looking back to last year our squad is a lot more experienced’

The yin and yang of life is something to which Alex Wootton is becoming accustomed to since his move to Ireland eight years ago.

A Northampton Saint for a year, Wootton had opted to move to Ireland and Munster, before making an initial temporary change to Connacht last season. There had been 39 appearances and 65 points for Munster during his tenure which was hampered by injury; within a season at the western province Wootton had played 22 games, bagged 55 points, was joint top try-scorer, and then made his move permanent.

“In the latter part of my eighth year (with Munster) I wasn’t paying much rugby, so to have an opportunity to come to Connacht and potentially play more rugby was an easy decision, and then obviously I put my best foot forward last season, and was pretty good.”

Covid, despite having restricted his ability to see family and friends in England, also helped him to make that commitment to the west of Ireland.

“There was a year and a half of not seeing family, but through that time it did put things into perspective, which made the move very clear and obvious to me.”

However, as pre-season competition for the back three spots was stepped up, Wootton says he found it difficult to "hit the straps" early on, while also getting to grips with Connacht's new game plan. Wootton was able to call on resilience learned in Munster, and after missing the opening five matches, his name has been included in every starting line-up since the Ospreys – only missing last week's game against Ulster which was called off due to Covid cases in Belfast.

"Annoying to say the least," he says. "From a player's point of view, you want to be playing every week, especially coming off a loss against Leicester Tigers. You want to put that to bed, put what didn't go well behind you, and try to put those things right, so it was annoying in that sense.

“We come in here, prepare from Monday to Friday for the game, and when it doesn’t go ahead – especially from our side with all negative tests – it’s a bit tricky because that’s what you prepare for all week.

“But we have shown good resilience, especially last year – we were available for all the games, and hopefully we can keep the same this weekend.

“You also have to look on the plus side – I was able to have a few drinks with my wife and chill out. That’s the yin and yang of life.”

Purple patches

Now the 27-year-old is taking on his former club on New Year’s Day, and following Connacht’s bonus-point loss to Leicester, Wootton is hoping for a reversal of fortunes against Munster.

"It's a game of rugby, so there will always be purple patches, but I think from our point of view, and looking back to the Leinster and Leicester Tigers' game, it's small things that really swing momentum.

“Momentum in test match games is huge – whether it is back field coverage when it’s not right and then we get stuck behind our gain line – under the pump let’s say – being stuck on your corner for 10 minutes or on your try line really does take its toll. These are the sort of things we are starting to learn – small things we need to iron out.

"We are still gaining experience. Looking back to last year our squad is a lot more experienced – Racing away and Europe last year, and winning games away from home really well last year.

“We are gaining this experience as a squad, and we are still doing that. Hopefully these games and experiences will help and come to fruition at the latter end of this season or potentially next season.”