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Roger Wilson to make 50th Heineken Cup appearance with Ulster in France

Ulster's Roger Wilson will make his 50th appearance in the Heineken Cup against Castres

Ulster's Roger Wilson will make his 50th appearance in the Heineken Cup against Castres

  • by Richard Mulligan
 

Roger Wilson reaches another milestone on Saturday when he makes his 50th Heineken Cup appearance.

The towering No 8 has already hit the century-plus appearances with both Ulster over his two stints with the Irish Province and in between he made over 100 appearances for Northampton Saints. He played in 20 European Cup games for the English club, starting in each of them, as well as playing in four Amlin Challenge Cup matches.

Wilson, a former Royal Belfast Academical Institution boy with whom he won two Ulster Schools’ Cups in 1998 and 2000, made his Ulster debut in September 2003 against Ospreys.

After five successful seasons with Ulster, the 31-year-old loose forward joined English club, Northampton Saints and in that first season was a winner in Europe, when the side won the Amlin Challenge Cup.

They were also promoted to the English Premiership and Wilson was a Cup winner with the club won the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

In the 2010-11 season, Wilson faced Ulster in a Heineken Cup quarter-final, the English side winning at Milton Keynes and going on to the final where, in spite of building up a comfortable half time lead, went on to lose to Leinster.

Wilson had always said he was keen to return to his home club in Belfast and at the end of the 2011-12 season it was confirmed that both he and Tommy Bowe, who had left Ulster to join Welsh club, Ospreys, were returning.

Wilson was always a popular figure at Ravenhill with the fans and in his previous time with the Irish Province he was player of the year twice (2005 and 2007).

He did make his Irish bow in June 2005 against Japan - but remarkably has not been seen in the green shirt since.

During his time with Saints, commentators on the game viewed Wilson as the best No 8 in the English Premiership - yet his performances went unnoticed by the Irish management.

He has been involved in the Irish training camps this season, but taking the green jersey off Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip, in spite of some off colour performances, is proving difficult.

When Wilson arrived back in Belfast at the start of the season he was still recovering from a serious hamstring tear injury and it was not until October that he finally made his return performance for Ulster against Newport Gwent Dragons.

Since then he has been challenging for the No 8 starting place with Nick Williams and he has also captained the side in the absence of club skipper, Johann Muller.

Williams suffered an injury last week against the Scots in the penultimate pool game in Belfast when Ulster secured their place in the last eight of Europe with his former club also aiding in that by defeating Castres.

But Ulster go to Castres this weekend looking to secure a home draw in the last eight, which means winning on French soil for the first time in European competition.

“It is certainly a big challenge,” said Wilson who joins current players Paddy Wallace (53), Tommy Bowe (51) and Andrew Trimble (51) in the Elite ERC 50 appearances club, as well as former players, David Humphreys (57), Justin Fitzpatrick (53) and Gary Longwell (50).

“I won in Castres with Saints the year we got to the final. It was exactly the same situation, we had to go there to win and secure a home draw.

“It is the same for me and Ulster now. It is all very well saying we have qualified, but you definitely want to get a home quarter-final.

“You have seen how it has gone over the years and quarter-finals are particularly crucial. If we were to lose we could end up going to somewhere like Clermont or Toulon and that makes it really difficult.”

Wilson had admitted back in October when he first played for the Ulster Ravens in the British & Irish Cup and them against Dragons for the senior side that it would take him a bit of time to find his feet after the injury.

“It was one of those injuries which was slow to heal and take time with it. It was important not to rush. It was great to be back, but it was so frustrating not being able to play.”

Asked if he felt he was starting to get back to his best, Wilson said: “Yes, I think I am over the worst of it. You do feel it at the start, it takes a little bit longer to get into things at the warm-up.

“But once I get into it I do not feel any difference.”

Saints beating Castres 18-12 last week ensured that Ulster won Pool Four irrespective of how Saints do this weekend against Glasgow.

But he had not heard from any of his former team-mates.

This weekend Ulster could help the Saints who harbour an outside chance of making the last eight as a best runner-up or the Amlin Challenge Cup.

“We have to do what we have to do, and that is what my focus is on,” added Wilson.

 

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