James Wilson lines up a kick at goal during a Southland Stags game at Rugby Park in Invercargill this season.
IT would be easy to dedicate this column to picking apart the Southland Stags’ obvious problems.
The Stags have conceded 40 points or more in 11 of their past 14 Mitre 10 Cup games. You have to flick back to 2016 to recall Southland’s last win in New Zealand’s top-flight provincial competition.
But for the moment, let’s put all that to one side.
Instead let’s hover the microscope over the feel-good story of the Stags’ 2018 campaign.
I’m talking about the return of James Wilson.
His first stint with the Stags stretched from 2003 to 2011.
After finishing up at Southland Boys’ High School and joining the Blues club, he played 66 times in the maroon jersey through that eight-year period.
He carved out a record which included becoming Southland’s all-time leading points scorer in Ranfurly Shield defences.
Wilson will forever have his name etched in Southland sporting folklore on the back of his Ranfurly Shield-winning dropped goal against Canterbury in 2011.
He did enough at provincial level to be picked up by the Highlanders and Chiefs at Super Rugby level.
But despite all that, Wilson was somewhat an enigma throughout those early days with Southland.
He could be a polarising type of player.
At times you found yourself in awe of his big punt and other silky skills. At other times you wondered whether there simply were too many flaws in his game.
He departed Southland, bound for France, and it was hard to know just what we had lost.
This year Wilson has returned to his Southland roots as a 35-year-old in what has been a second coming at his home province.
There is little doubt Wilson is now a better player following six years playing overseas.
It’s hard to fathom that he is a 35-year-old who has put his body through 220-plus first-class games of rugby.
Wilson 2.0 looks to be a more abrasive player than he once was, his rugby IQ looks to have increased and his all-round professionalism is something others in the Stags squad can inspire to.
It has not taken long to figure out just why rugby people in Bath, England, where he left to return to Southland, were disappointed to see him go.
There has been an obvious frustrated look plastered across Wilson’s face following all five of Southland’s losses so far this season.
But on a personal level, Wilson should feel proud and in some ways at peace with what he has produced in his second stint with the Stags.
Wilson is no longer that Southland rugby enigma which I earlier alluded to.
He is a player Southland’s next generation of players can follow.