Just when you thought messieurs Henson and Cipriani had cornered the market in bad boy behavior, a seasoned professional arrives to show them how it’s done, writes Rugby World reader Dan Grose. Former star of NRL, part time visitor to Super League and constant badger to the authorities, Willie Mason is sure to give the duo a run for their money.
Whilst last month it was Mr Cipriani’s indiscretions making the news, “Big Willie” has set tongues wagging after just one game of Rugby Union following his controversial exit from a turbulent stay at Hull KR.
After a shock move to the Yorkshire outfit in September farcical visa issues blighted his progress, before a swift but destructive departure to Toulon ensured a vitriolic eulogy from the thirteen-man game. Yet this was not the end, and days later he was named in the Barbarians squad to face England.
Although the 31-year-old is no stranger to controversy, his disciplinary record could not be regaled in 500 words, such a move and subsequent selection was certainly a surprise. Having not having played a nanosecond of Union since high school, his Baa-Baa’s inclusion caused uproar amongst fans and coaches alike, questioning both the logic and morality of the decision. Add to this the history and tradition surrounding the black and white shirt, and the stage was set for the most spectacular of all failures.
But, in typical Mason fashion, the reality was quite the opposite. Despite only appearing 20 minutes before the end his impact was quietly impressive. Slotting into the game with relative ease and picking several key passes, his performance was enough to earn the praise of Barbarians coach Dai Young and raise expectations for his Union career.
Despite the controversy and it still being early days, it appears the latest chapter in the Mason Files could just be a success. At 6ft 5 and 19 stone he certainly has the stature to make an impact in Union, and if size can be married with skill his potential could be limitless. On the other hand 31 is late in a career to be crossing codes, and progress would have to be swift. Toulon are not a club to wait around for results, just ask Gavin Henson.
Indeed it remains to be seen how long the Union experiment will last. With his Hull KR spell lasting only 6 games, proof will be needed that he is actually willing to learn. After admitting he needed to “learn how to play Union in a hurry and learn French” he certainly has his work cut out for him. But Mason has never been one to do things the easy way.
Whatever the outcome the results are sure to be compelling. Whether he surprises everyone or fails gloriously, “Big Willie” will no doubt provide great entertainment along the way.