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Jack Willis hooked on fishing as he looks after his mind and repairs his body

Three months on from the crocodile roll and the anguished cry Jack Willis admits to having good days and bad days.

Today is a good day. He has a ticket for the rugby, watching his club Wasps with brother Tom, play Worcester at the Ricoh.

The day we spoke was more challenging. There had been three hard sessions of rehab to get through, with the promise of six to seven months more of the same.

“There are battles that go on in your head on a daily basis,” the Premiership’s reigning Player of the Season admitted. “Battles that when you’re playing you don’t have.

“There are days – and this has been one of them – where I really struggle for motivation, where I really don’t know how I’m going to keep chugging. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I was pretty fed up.”

Willis scores for England against Italy on his Six Nations debut in February

One minute Willis was coming off the bench for England at Twickenham and scoring a try on his Six Nations debut against Italy.

Almost the next he was screaming in pain after being rolled out from a ruck in a way which tore and ruptured ligaments in his left knee.

Coming so soon after a year out with injury to his other knee only made matters worse.

Willis: “I can still feel the crunch and the pop and the pain. It was a horrible one to watch, wasn’t it?”
Willis: “I can still feel the crunch and the pop and the pain. It was a horrible one to watch, wasn’t it?”

“It sends shivers down my spine every time it gets replayed,” he said. “I can still feel the crunch and the pop and the pain. It was a horrible one to watch, wasn’t it?”

That was mid-February, since when both England and Wasps have slumped alarmingly. Mental Health Awareness week was a timely reminder to check Willis is okay.

“Look, there are times I really do feel sorry for myself going through this again,” said the 24-year-old. “Times I need my brother to come round for a cuppa and a few Hobnobs.

Willis celebrates with Wasps team mates after winning a turnover in last season's Premiership final against Exeter
Willis celebrates with Wasps team mates after winning a turnover in last season’s Premiership final against Exeter

“But actually I’m incredibly lucky when I think of the support I can call on. Very fortunate.”

The trick has been to find ways of keeping himself “distracted mentally” when the demands of rehab threaten to drag him down.

He set up a property agency with a mate and when not working on that is to be found at a nearby fishing lake, often with his dad.

Willis: “Before my first injury I was consumed by the rugby bubble. Everything I thought about day and night was rugby. That’s not healthy"
Willis: “Before my first injury I was consumed by the rugby bubble. Everything I thought about day and night was rugby. That’s not healthy”

“We spend quality time together out there,” he said. “It’s nice sometimes to switch off and be sat there just with your fishing rod and cup of tea!

“Before my first injury I was consumed by the rugby bubble. Everything I thought about day and night was rugby. That’s not healthy.

“Fishing lets the mind rest for a bit. I’m not sitting there thinking ‘this is going to be the end of me, I’m never going to be able to come back from this’.

All change again in Eddie Jones' England coaching set-up
All change again in Eddie Jones’ England coaching set-up

“I’ll be back, but I won’t rush. I need to make sure the knee is right. Not for one or two games but the rest of my career.”

Simon Amor and Jason Ryles have left Eddie Jones’ coaching set-up in the wake of England’s worst ever Six Nations campaign.

Amor was responsible for the attack whilst Ryles was skills coach. England showed not too much of either in finishing fifth.

Keith Earls scores Ireland's first try as England complete a first Triple Crown of defeats to home nations rivals since 1976
Keith Earls scores Ireland’s first try as England complete a first Triple Crown of defeats to home nations rivals since 1976

The world’s biggest rugby-playing nation scored more tries than only Italy, with 12 in five matches.

And while Jones himself survived the post-tournament inquest, RFU boss Bill Sweeney warned: “We have to react. You can’t just do nothing and we won’t do nothing.”

Amor and the RFU have mutually decided to part company but Ryles’ departure is his choice, preferring to stay in Australia with his family due to the pandemic.

When England reassemble to play the USA and Canada at Twickenham in July, Jones will oversee the attack coaching. John Mitchell and Matt Proudfoot are to continue in their roles.




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