RUGBY: Roger Wilson shows his battling qualities right to the end

Roger Wilson has won more than most who have worn the famous Ulster jersey.

Roger Wilson with his 10-month old son Nico waves to the crowd at the Kingspan Stadium
Roger Wilson with his 10-month old son Nico waves to the crowd at the Kingspan Stadium

The robust number eight signed off on what has been an impressive career with both Ulster and Northampton Saints.

Setting a new all-time Ulster appearances record of 221 on Saturday when he faced Leinster in the Guinness PRO12 finale at Kingspan Stadium - it also marked his final competitive game.

Two spells at Ulster and a period at Northampton Saints has seen Wilson played over 350 competitive games - and that list includes one Ireland cap.

Ulster's Roger Wilson drives for the line

With Ulster he won the Celtic Cup in 2003 and Celtic League in 2006, while at Northampton he was a European Rugby Challenge Cup winner in 2009, LV Cup winner in 2010 and a Heineken Cup runner-up in 2011.

That was a famous European Cup final for all the wrong reasons as Wilson’s Saints had led Leinster 22-6 at half time, before going on to lose a thriller.

Wilson saved his best appearance of the season to his final one.

Not only did he score a try during the 17-13 win over Leinster, but he also picked up a deserved Guinness ‘man of the match’ award.

Ulster's Roger Wilson receives his man of the match medal from Colin Bell of Guinness

It was a fitting way for the popular Ulster player to sign off - even if a lot of the attention was on the departing Ruan Pienaar, playing in his final competitive game before leaving for France next season.

Wilson joked: “My first try in five years I think so better late than never.

“The most pleasing thing was the result because it has been a bit doom gloom the last few weeks and all season so it was important finishing off on a high to take into the summer.

“We talked a lot during the week about us as a team and we were the ones just going out there playing for each other and playing for pride.

Roger Wilson and Ruan Pienaar after the final Guinness PRO12 League clash between Ulster Rugby and Leinster Rugby

“We produced a performance that was far from prefect but there was a lot of hunger and desire there especially against your local rivals and that needed to shine out.

“We knew we would come out a produce a performance that was worthy of a win albeit not particularly flash but we got over the line.”

Wilson and Pienaar were not the only ‘leavers’ this season - head coach Neil Doak and assistant Allen Clarke along with players Franco van der Merwe and Ricky Lutton will also leave the Irish Province at the end of the season.

So there was plenty of emotion around the Kingspan on Saturday evening.

President, John McKibbin, presents Luke Marshall and Rob Herring with their 100th Caps and Chris Henry and Tommy Bowe with their 150th Caps and Roger Wilson with a special Number 8 montage during the 2017 Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards held at the Aquinas Grammar School, Belfast

“There are a number of people moving on a who maybe didn’t get too many mentions,” admitted Wilson.

“There probably was a bit of emotion and when it comes down to that you just want to finish on a high for everybody and we asked that going into the game in was all about people for each other as a team and I think we did that by and large.

“The crowd got behind us and I thought they were great.”

Ulster missed out on the play-offs for the first time since 2012 and there was a certain amount of frustration that they finished a point behind Ospreys and missed out this season.

Wilson said: “In hindsight you look back Cardiff is one example and you can pick many others, there are periods in a season were you have to knuckle down and scrape out those games.

“It’s not about short term, you have to think the playoffs are in May and if you win this game it will go a long way and individual bonus points count massively so that is probably something we can learn from going forwards.”

Ulster's Roger Wilson drives for the line
Ulster's Roger Wilson receives his man of the match medal from Colin Bell of Guinness
Roger Wilson and Ruan Pienaar after the final Guinness PRO12 League clash between Ulster Rugby and Leinster Rugby
President, John McKibbin, presents Luke Marshall and Rob Herring with their 100th Caps and Chris Henry and Tommy Bowe with their 150th Caps and Roger Wilson with a special Number 8 montage during the 2017 Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards held at the Aquinas Grammar School, Belfast