RUGBY UNION

Nuneaton Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

JAKE Cooper-Wool­ley is hop­ing to ‘kick on' this sea­son mo­ti­vated by the com­pe­ti­tion pro­vided by Eng­land in­ter­na­tional Kieran Brookes as his tight­head ri­val.

The 28-year-old played 27 times for Wasps in a gru­elling 2017/18 cam­paign as his chal­lenger for the num­ber three shirt, Marty Moore, fell down the peck­ing or­der ahead of his re­turn to Ire­land with Ul­ster this sum­mer.

Di­rec­tor of rugby Dai Young acted swiftly to lure 16-times capped prop Brookes from Northamp­ton Saints, to cre­ate ar­guably one of the strong­est tight­head bat­tles in the Gal­lagher Pre­mier­ship.

“Kieran's a great player,” said Cooper-Wool­ley. “It's great to have an­other prop on board, it's great to have some­one push you, not that Marty didn't, but I ended up play­ing a lot of min­utes last sea­son for what­ever the rea­son.

“It takes its toll play­ing tight­head as Dai will say and other peo­ple will say. You look at most clubs, there's at least two good play­ers in ev­ery po­si­tion, es­pe­cially tight­head, and it's up to you to play bet­ter than the other one if you want to play in those big games.

“There will be a lot of rugby com­ing your way. You've got to take your op­por­tu­ni­ties, if and when you get them.”

Cooper-Wool­ley of­ten re­quired the physio team's sup­port to re­main on Pre­mier­ship pitches dur­ing the lat­ter stages of the 2017/18 sea­son, such was Wasps' reliance upon his abil­i­ties, but the prop dug deep to com­plete ar­guably his best cam­paign since join­ing the club in 2013.

This was off the back of a warn­ing from Young, who told the Tele­graph back in Septem­ber, the di­rec­tor of rugby said: “I think he's had the mes­sage that if he doesn't watch it, his rugby ca­reer's go­ing to pass him by.”

It was not only a sea­son of ar­du­ous play­ing chal­lenges, but also of per­sonal dis­cov­ery for a player many ex­perts tipped to tour with Eng­land in South Africa only for him to be over­looked by Ed­die Jones. “I think I had a good sea­son on the whole,” said Cooper-Wool­ley. “I learned about how much I need to put in and how much I need to weigh, what I need a week to look like, how I need to feel, to play my best rugby. So I learned that and I think I had patches through­out the year play­ing re­ally, re­ally well. Ob­vi­ously it's tough to play well all of the time. That's what sep­a­rates the guys right at the very top from the guys who do al­right. I strug­gled a bit play­ing some­times, I played a lot of rugby. I played my most min­utes ever, my most games ever.

“I was quite happy with a lot of it. It's tough as a tight­head if you have a cou­ple of bad scrums to put them out of your head, but you ap­pre­ci­ate even the best guys have bad scrums. So it's okay. Hope­fully I will kick on again this sea­son. There's things I can do bet­ter and I'll work on those things.”

Given his ‘dou­ble shifts' on club duty, which con­cluded with a try-scor­ing ap­pear­ance in the 57-33 de­feat to Sara­cens in the play-off semi-fi­nal, it was per­haps with some re­lief that the for­mer Cardiff man was given the sum­mer off while many of his club mates jet­ted off to South Africa.

Eng­land in­stead opted for Kyle Sinck­ler from Har­lequins, Ex­eter Chiefs' Harry Wil­liams while pri­mary tight­head Dan Cole was rested by Jones.

With Au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als loom­ing along with the Six Na­tions and a World Cup in Ja­pan, now would be an op­por­tune time for Cooper-Wool­ley to make the step-up – but the long-serv­ing Wasp has mod­est am­bi­tions.

He said: “If you said you didn't want to play for Eng­land you'd be crazy. I think the way my ca­reer has gone, with it be­ing a bit up and down, my aim is to get a level of con­sis­tency and be happy with the way I am play­ing on a week-by­week ba­sis.

“That seems a long way away for me, play­ing for Eng­land. There's a lot of guys in there who do well. Un­til you're of­fer­ing some­thing that is so, so dif­fer­ent to what they of­fer – then why make the change?

“All I can do is play my best rugby and if peo­ple say about me that I am good enough, then great. If it hap­pens, great. If it doesn't, I'd rather it did but you can't lose too much sleep about things you can­not con­trol. If I am happy with what I am putting out on to the pitch ev­ery week, and Dai's happy, that's all I can do.”

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