England's Willis happy with life in Toulouse despite test exile

rugby27 May 2024 11:05| © AFP
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Jack Willis © Getty Images

Jack Willis is enjoying his time in Toulouse so much he has no plans to return to England despite his test career stalling due to playing abroad.

Willis played a starring role as Toulouse won the European Champions Cup final on Saturday beating Irish province Leinster 31-22 after extra time at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The 27-year-old England flanker made a mammoth 30 tackles in a colossal defensive effort during a gruelling match as Willis added to the French Top 14 title he won with Toulouse last season.

But with England coach Steve Borthwick only allowed to select players at Premiership clubs, Willis will remain marooned on 14 caps so long as he stays in France.

When Willis joined Toulouse following English club Wasps' financial collapse in 2022, some observers thought this was a short term remedy and that it would not be long before he was back playing in the Premiership.

Willis, however, has developed an emotional attachment to record six-time European kings Toulouse that makes returning to England far from straightforward.

"For me there's lots of things to consider when you talk about a move," Willis said.

"After leaving Wasps, there were a lot of emotions. Trying to deal with joining another club in England is a hard thing. No one probably realises how difficult that is.

"I probably escaped a little bit being out at such a great club where we have had a chance to win a Top 14 and a Champions Cup.

"The emotions I feel right now is that I am incredibly grateful. I have been welcomed into a group that have shown nothing but respect to me and have welcomed me with open arms. That's all I am thinking about."

The back-row forward added: "I have just won the Champions Cup. If you had told me two years ago that I would be winning a Champions Cup, I would have thought that you were mental.

"There were a lot of lows with Wasps and I was not playing as much as I would have wanted in certain games, so to be welcomed in Toulouse – I can't tell you how grateful I am.

"My family have been welcomed and there are so many good blokes here. I'm just so grateful to be a part of this group and to be able to try to add to it."

Well though Willis played in the final, it was outstanding Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont who was named player of the match, with the France international also named European player of the year.

"Antoine made four turnovers!," said Willis. "He can do everything! Hell of a player. He added a hell of a lot. As far as I have seen, he's probably the best rugby player of all time. He has helped me win two trophies."