DURING the 2018-19 season, Mak Wilson was studying astrophysics, but in recent times, rather than looking at the stars, he was one of the shining lights himself during Scotland’s Under-20s’ Six Nations campaign.
In years gone by, we have seen vet Euan Murray earn 66 Scotland caps, doctor Geoff Cross play for his country 40 times and physicist Ed Kalman represent the national team twice, and the next cerebral tight-head prop coming through in the Scottish game appears to be 19-year-old Wilson who started all five Six Nations matches and has a bright future ahead on and off the pitch.
“At school I really enjoyed physics and I have always been fascinated by space and things like that, so astrophysics was always something I was keen to study and learn more about if I could,” he explained.“I really enjoyed last year at Edinburgh University, I am currently in a deferred year from those studies due to various reasons, but I hope to go back to it next year if possible, and it is a good ‘switch off’ from rugby.”
Wilson, a FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy stage two player based in the Borders, has been very much ‘switched on’ to rugby in recent months. He worked incredibly hard with under-20s coaches Sean Lineen, Shade Munro and Kris Burney throughout December and January to make sure that he was ready for the rigours of five tough matches at international age-grade level. And he and his fellow pack mates, led by captain Rory Darge from No.8, set the platform for the team to secure 13 points from the championship, ending with a stunning 52-17 win in Wales, which gave them something to really build on ahead of the World Trophy in September.
With Dan Gamble of Heriot’s, his main rival for the No 3 jersey, missing out on the championship due to a neck injury, Wilson played over 60 minutes in every game,and all of the Italy match, as the cornerstone of an impressive scrummaging unit.
“I knew I had a chance to stake my claim for the number three jersey with the under-20s during the Six Nations,” said Wilson. “When I was told I would be starting the first game against Ireland [a 38-26 loss] I was quite nervous, but I think I did pretty well that night and it gave me a bit of confidence.
“As a team, we knew that the England game [a 21-17 defeat] was one that got away, but it showed us what we were capable of and to win in Italy [30-29] in round three was a great feeling.
“For a prop that game was quite strange because there was only one scrum in 80 minutes, but there was plenty more against France [29-22 loss] and in Wales.
“Against Wales everything we have been working on just clicked. Defence has been a big ‘work on’ for me and the squad and the way we defended there set up the victory, and now we feel we have laid down a marker.”
Wilson began his rugby journey in the minis at Berwick before really taking to the game when he was in senior school at Eyemouth High School as part of a combined team with Berwickshire High School in Duns.
“I played for that team from S1-S3 and then I played for the Duns club at under-16 level,” he explained. “In my first year of under-18 rugby I played for a combined Duns/Berwick team, before aiming to push on with the Duns senior team the following year. After a few outings for them I was injured and then I had Scotland under-18 duties, so I didn’t play for them as much as I’d have liked, but they and Berwick are both great clubs who helped me a lot.
“I played for the Borders from under-16 to under-20 levels and was proud to captain them in the under-20s while, Scotland-wise, I was involved at under-16, 17 and 18 levels before breaking into the under-19s and 20s last year.”
Wilson left school after S5 in the summer of 2017 and spent the next year working as a modern apprentice under development officer Bert Grigg at Duns.
“Bert is someone who has helped me a lot in my career and I really appreciate everything he’s done for me. I owe a lot to Bert and he’s someone I’ll always have a lot of time for,” Wilson stated.
“At the time I was pushing for Scotland under-18s and I played against England in our opening game of the Six Nations Festival in Wales [in March 2018, when Scotland won 32-27 having been 27-10 down] and that was a great experience, but then I injured my shoulder and missed the rest of the tournament. A lot of the boys in that squad are in the under-20s now and I think growing up together has helped us a lot.
“In the summer of 2018 I joined Melrose and as a young guy from the Borders it was great to be playing at an iconic place like The Greenyards. I turned out for Scotland under-19s against Wales that year and was called into the under-20s for the 2019 Six Nations, but I tore my hamstring at training and was not able to take part.”
Return of the Mak
That injury was a big blow for Wilson, but he refocused with the help of family, friends, rugby contacts and the distraction of his studies, to set his sights on making it to the World Championship a few months later.
“I shed a bit of weight, worked really hard in the gym and on my skills, and it was great to get the call from the then under-20s head coach Carl Hogg to tell me I had made the squad to go to Argentina for the World Championship,” he said.
“I only played in one match – making my debut at under-20 level off the bench against New Zealand – and it was a tough tournament for us getting relegated to the World Trophy, but I think we all learnt vital lessons about playing rugby at a high level and what it takes as well as really playing to our strengths and working as a team.
“I came back from that trip and, after a rest, I returned to playing for Melrose. While I was doing that, Southern Knights head coach Rob Chrystie kept in regular contact with me and then he offered by a Super6 squad contract.
“I jumped at the chance because I want to play at the highest level I can. Sadly, as Super6 was getting going I suffered a prolapsed disc in my back and, because I have been in the under-20s camp pretty much since December, I haven’t played for the Knights competitively as yet.
“That is something I want to rectify in the future, but it has been great being around the guys at training and the intensity has helped me push my game on, as has working with Ross Ford [who is an S&C coach with the club] there.
“When rugby returns after the current [Coronavirus shutdown] situation, I feel in a good place to kick on with my career and I am always learning.”