Christian Wade: Float like a butterfly, sting like a Wasp
He's only 5ft 8in, but he runs like the wind and can't stop scoring. He talks to Simon Turnbull about life in the fast lane
Saturday 05 November 2011
Christian Wade is a young man who is going places. Going places fast. Six times in the opening seven matches of the 2011-12 Aviva Premiership campaign the fledgling Wasps winger has gone across the opposition whitewash and dotted down. It has taken him to the top of the try-scoring charts in English rugby's top flight.
In the whole of last season only three Premiership players reached double figures. One of them lines up as Wade's direct opponent at Adams Park tomorrow.
Chris Ashton – who finished last term on 10, the same tally as Topsy Ojo, three behind Alesana Tuilagi – probably knows precious little about the flyweight flyer on Wasps' left wing. When the Northampton man left for the World Cup at the end of August Wade was a veteran of four Premiership matches. He made two starts and two substitute appearances at the tail end of last season.
The 20-year-old got his first taste of try-scoring in the final match of last season, against Exeter. This term he has scored against Saracens, Leicester (three), Newcastle and Bath.
He has done so, invariably, in the kind of blinding flash – there one nanosecond, gone the next – that has brought to mind such seriously quick speed merchants of the English club game as David Trick of 1980s Bath fame and Andrew Harriman of Harlequins and 1993 World Cup Sevens-winning fame. Not that the names of such blasts from the past mean anything to Wade. He was born in 1991.
It is different when Shane Williams is mentioned. The 5ft 7in, 12st 8lb Welshman might be bowing out of the international arena next month but he will be leaving the legacy that size doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to making the grade in the land of the latter-day giants of the wing. An IRB world player of the year award and 68 caps bear testimony to that.
"Guys like Shane Williams, Jason Robinson and Dave Lemi are all pretty small players and they're big names in rugby," Wade says. "Whatever size or weight you are, I don't think it matters as long as you use your strengths and get the job done."
Dai Young, Wasps' director of rugby, said much the same thing last week when he was asked about his 5ft 8in, 13st 8lb No 11. "Christian is not going to run over many people, is he?" the former Wales prop acknowledged. "But he can beat people, and it doesn't matter how you do that."
Wade insists: "I don't see my size as an issue. I never have. People have brought it up at times. When I was younger I think I didn't get picked sometimes because of it. I just focus on bettering myself, bettering my skills, and it's definitely working for me.
"Everyone's got their own way of getting over the gain-line. For me, it won't be running over players, obviously. That's not my game. For me, it'll be putting some footwork on or stepping or using my speed. Either way, I'm getting over the gain-line, so I don't see any reason to bring up my size or weight."
Wade learnt his rugby at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, the alma mater of his Wasps team-mate Tom Rees and the former England scrum-half Matt Dawson – not to mention Luke Donald, Ian Dury and Jimmy Carr. He played for England schools' at under-16s and under-18s and has also represented his country at under-20 level and on the sevens circuit.
As a teenage sprinter, Wade ran for Buckinghamshire in the English Schools' track and field championships. Surprisingly, he did not make the kind of impact that Trick did in his youth. The current Bath president won the intermediate boys (under-17s) 100 metres at the 1977 English Schools Championships in Hendon, clocking 10.8sec. The 1500m in the same age group was won by someone from Co Durham called Steve Cram.
Wade made the intermediate boys 100m final at Sheffield in 2007. He finished eighth in 11.32sec.
"I choked," he says. "I didn't think I'd get to the final and I'd heard about all these names of runners who'd run all these quick times and I got really nervous. I came last in that race, and I didn't get a good time either. "I never actually broke the 11 seconds barrier. I had a really good start and then I would get to top speed at probably about 50m-60m. I never mastered the technique of going up a gear. Everybody else would just pull away.
"I did get faster in every race, though. I think it would have been a matter of time before I broke 11 seconds."
To judge by the fashion in which he flew up the wing for his try at Newcastle in September, Wade could probably do so now with time to spare. His smooth, quicksilver running style is not dissimilar to that of the family friend who coached him in his schoolboy athlete days and who continues to help him on the speed front. Julian Golding won the Commonwealth 200m title in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and was a key member of the Great Britain 4x100m relay team, alongside the likes of Dwain Chambers and Darren Campbell, before a succession of injuries cruelly cut him down short of fulfilling his huge potential.
"When I was doing athletics at school I used to go down and train in the summer with Julian at the Newham and Essex Beagles club," Wade says. "When I get the chance now I still go down and see him and do some speed work. He's a mentor to me as well as a family friend – a good mentor. He's been there and done it at the top level in sport.
"I'm still pretty inexperienced. I've only played a handful of games. I've got lots to learn. Every game is a challenge – especially when you play big name players such as Chris Ashton, England's No 1 winger. It'll be a great challenge for me."
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