Q&A: James Wilson looks back on Saints stay and prepares for big Bath reunion

James Wilson said goodbye to Saints at the end of last season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
James Wilson said goodbye to Saints at the end of last season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

James Wilson was a key figure for Saints during some of the club's most successful times.

A versatile back who could play at fly-half, on the wing, in the centre or at full-back, the Kiwi became a real fans' favourite at Franklin's Gardens.

He amassed 95 Northampton appearances after moving to the club in 2012.

In his first season, Wilson helped Saints to reach their first Aviva Premiership final, where they lost to Leicester Tigers, despite the utility back performing superbly at centre.

And a year later, Saints went one better, beating Saracens in the showpiece to claim Premiership glory for the first time in the club's history.

They also won the Challenge Cup that season, beating Bath in the final.

Wilson eventually left Saints last summer, having been unable to play a sizeable part in the first-team picture during the previous season.

Now he has made his way to Bath, via Bedford Blues, and is setting his sights on a first game against Saints since he exited the Gardens.

We caught up with the 34-year-old for a chat about this week's game and the successful five years he spent at Saints.

How are you finding life at Bath?

"It's great. I've adapted to how they play quite easily.

"Obviously the facilities, the management and the boys have made it an easy change.

"It's been nice and refreshing because I wasn't involved too much towards the tail end of my time at Northampton.

"I've been able to put the boots on and get stuck in here and I've been involved quite a lot since I've arrived.

"It's been rewarding."

How did your move to Bath come about?

"I was just biding my time really.

"I unfortunately didn't have anything lined up because I didn't get a lot of game time towards the end of my time at Northampton.

"I just kept training myself, kept on top of things and I went out on my own and asked Lee (Dickson) and Howard (Packman) if I could go along and train with them at Bedford.

"It is better being in a team environment.

"I just tagged along, trained and threw the ball around and (Bedford boss) Mike Rayer asked if it would be possible if I could have a run-around for them.

"I was on the bench for one game and then I started against Bristol the week after.

"The need for some cover at Bath moved things on for me to come here and play.

"I wanted to get back into a Premiership team here in England so if a chance popped up, Bedford knew I might have to jump ship straight away and they were okay with that.

"They were happy with me giving some advice to some of the younger boys they've got there and happy for me to run around and train with them. I was grateful for that."

Did you ever consider going back to New Zealand after leaving Saints or did you always want to stay in England?

"There was an opportunity to go back because some guys I played with before I came to Europe are now coaching my team I started out at, Southlands.

"They offered for me to come back straight after the season finished, but it's not really a goal for me - I left that behind.

"My goal is still to win things here in Europe, it's one of the best competitions in the world and I love playing here in the Premiership.

"The support here is fantastic, the game suits me and I wanted to stay.

"I was insistent I was okay here and I wanted to wait for a while to see what happened.

"I'm just happy I was patient enough to do it."

Do you keep in touch with the lads at the Saints?

"Of course. I've got some really close friends there because I was there for a long time.

"I keep in touch all of the time."

How does it feel to see what has happened at Saints over recent months?

"I imagine it's been a difficult time for the boys and I was feeling for them a bit.

"I know the boys would have been hurting with the way results were going and the reaction they were getting from the support.

"I know what the support is like in Northampton. It's with you 100 per cent but when things aren't going for the players, they can also be against you, which is tough to hear.

"They're there for you on one side and sometimes they can get on your back, but that's part and parcel of what we do and you've got to take it on the chin.

"I know from speaking to the lads that it was a very tough time."

How did you feel about how things ended for you at Saints and how disappointed were you when you found out you wouldn't be staying at the club?

"There was obviously disappointment there.

"Finishing up there at Northampton and leaving the way I left was disappointing.

"I wasn't really getting an answer, which was a bit rough.

"I don't know whether that was because I wasn't staying or they were looking ahead. I didn't really get an answer.

"I just took it on board and went with it.

"I've been around for a while, I know how things work and it was disappointing because I felt I could have helped by getting out there (on the pitch).

"I was just doing my bit, training, helping with off the field stuff and trying to keep it as positive as I could to help the boys to do their job.

"It was a tough one, especially after having such a successful time at Northampton.

"When you look back on it, as I have done, overall the time I had there was very successful and I'm very grateful for the opportunities I did get.

"All in all, it was a positive time, just a disappointing finish, but I tend to look at the positives more now."

When you talk about not getting an answer, do you mean you weren't getting an answer as to why you weren't getting into the first team?

"Yeah, basically.

"It was one of those ones where I just stopped asking the question because I just wasn't getting clarity.

"It was a disappointing thing because all you want to be told as a player is the honest truth.

"I don't really know too much about what was going on behind closed doors but I know they (the coaches) would have been under pressure.

"On my side of things, there was disappointment, but I just had to get on with things and help out who was there and who was running out on Saturday."

Reflecting on your overall stay at Saints, you had a great time there and when you joined, I imagine you could never have dreamed how well it would work out?

"Absolutely.

"My first season I was starting in a final at Twickenham and I was like 'wow, next level'.

"The next season, it was the first time Northampton had ever won the Prem and it was huge.

"There are so many more positives than negatives to take from my time there - that's for sure."

Which games stand out for you?

"There are so many.

"Obviously the first Prem final was massive and the way we won at Saracens in that semi-final (in 2013) was huge.

"We were written off before that game but we were thrashing them and they didn't have an answer.

"Obviously the times we had off the field were great as well.

"It was great fun."

Do you ever wish you had been able to make one position your own because you got shifted around a lot at Saints and maybe if you'd had a set role you could have played more?

"I honestly wouldn't change anything.

"It's refreshing changing it up and maybe if I didn't have that utility tag I would never have been involved in the first place.

"I look at it as a positive, I see it as me being an option to be moved around and the fact they had confidence in me performing in those positions was only a positive."

So, finally, this Friday will be your first chance to face Saints since you left - and you play them in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-finals - how much are you looking forward to it?

"I can't wait.

"I'm really looking forward to Friday night and knowing we've got the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final on a Friday night in a few weeks' time is also exciting.

"It's always good playing against good mates so I'm really looking forward to the challenge."