Alex Wootton keen to impress Munster coach Johann van Graan

Alex Wootton needs no encouragement to grab his chance to impress Munster’s new head coach Johann van Graan and if he continues his current try-scoring run, he will soon find himself in pole position for a Champions Cup wing berth.

Alex Wootton keen to impress Munster coach Johann van Graan

Two tries in front of van Graan at Zebre last Sunday was the ideal introduction as the South African weighs his selection options for this month’s home and away European pool games against Leicester Tigers.

Wootton’s contribution in Parma was also timely given that Munster must plan without Ireland wing Keith Earls, out of action until the New Year following a hamstring injury.

There is a final audition for places tomorrow in Cork when Ospreys arrive for a Guinness PRO14 clash, seven days out from the Tigers’ visit to Thomond Park.

The tries at the weekend consolidated Wootton’s position as Munster’s leading try scorer this season with seven but with squad rivals Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway returning from Ireland camp with reputations enhanced and last season’s top scorer Ronan O’Mahony poised for a return from long-term injury, the 23-year-old wing from Cheshire is under no illusions that he is nailed on for a starting place.

“That is exactly it. That is the competition we have here,” Wootton said. “It is a tough place to be where the competition is so high but where else would you rather be? You don’t want to be in a club where it is easy.

“If it was like that, you wouldn’t improve. I am happy with how things are going. I just want to train hard.”

Now Wootton has another opportunity to impress and he recognises the worth of getting minutes in Italy last weekend and this weekend’s Ospreys game to advancing his selection claims.

“Game-time is huge and obviously to influence people around you is important, too. People helped me when I first came on the scene... this kind of period now where the internationals are away is huge because guys like me are getting game-time.

“Johann is here now as well and this is a huge time because I was able to show him what I can do.

“These are huge games. It gives you a reason to show the coaches why they should pick you in the bigger games.” Earls’ injury is a serious blow to Munster’s preparations for Europe given his experience and world-class form of late while injuries in midfield to Ireland new boy Chris Farrell in addition to Jaco Taute will further stretch attack coach Felix Jones’s backline resources. Yet Wootton’s performances have helped to ease a little of the concern surrounding the senior man’s absence.

That he is getting his chance now, six years after moving to Ireland and joining the Munster academy, makes for a further endorsement of Wootton’s “quite easy” decision to leave England.

“I qualify to play for Ireland – my father is from Down – so my dad and family made me aware I could play for Ireland early on, so I knew it was always there. After I finished school, I went to Northampton for a year, and then at the time, I got in touch with Mike Ruddock who was the (Ireland) U20 coach at the time.

“He brought me to the Junior World Cup and when I went to France, I spoke to someone in the IRFU, I think it was (Head of Elite Player Pathway) Colin McEntee and he came up with a plan to put me in touch with a province. Munster came up and I snapped at it because of the history of the province, over in the UK everyone knows about Munster, it was an easy decision to come over.

“One thing I have realised in Ireland is that the transition to get to where you want to be is a bit slower because obviously there are fewer teams than there would be in France or England so I bided my time.

“To play for Munster is not just the love of the game, it is the love of Munster as well, when I first came over, I was playing a lot for Garryowen, learned a lot about Munster, and the more time I was here, the more patient I wanted to be, because this was the club I wanted to be at. It was an easy thing to do, just wait my time and hopefully it lasts.”

Football had played a major part in his life, his ambitions no doubt inspired by growing up in the Cheshire village of Prestbury, playing against the likes of future Sunderland player Duncan Watmore and surrounded by the luxury homes of Premier League and international footballers such as Wayne Rooney.

Now there are international aspirations of his own and Wootton’s performances in red have not gone unnoticed, with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt name-checking the wing as being on his radar ahead of the November Tests.

“This was the first time I have watched international games and said to myself, ‘this is where I want to be properly’. In the past I have watched it and been a bit of a supporter whereas this time I have been a bit gutted, I suppose.

“It is great to see those guys do well. Sweets has done really well for Munster the past few years. It is great to see those guys do it, and it is great if more Munster guys do well. It is great for Munster.

“That is the bigger picture (to play for Ireland). Obviously, I have smaller goals in the path to get there. That, 100%, is the goal. When I first moved over here when I was 17, that was one of the goals. I have had to bide my time. That is why I keep working here, and hopefully, if I get the opportunity to go to a camp, or even get a cap, that is what is driving me.”

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