Roger Wilson poised to make 300th professional appearance

Roger Wilson will make his 300th professional appearance on Friday
Roger Wilson will make his 300th professional appearance on Friday

Roger Wilson is set to be known as Ulster’s ‘Mr Durable’ this weekend when he makes his 300th appearance as a professional player.

The hard working back row forward will start against Connacht in the Guinness PRO12 at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night (Boxing Day) and register the incredible milestone.

The 33-year-old recently signed a new two year contract with the Province which will see him stretch his professional career to 15 years.

Although Wilson makes his 168th Ulster appearance on Friday, he had a four-year spell away in the English Premiership with Northampton Saints between 2008 and 2012 during which he made 117 appearances, won the European Challenge and LV Cups and also appeared in a Heineken Cup final.

Remarkably during his career he only made one Ireland senior appearance - against Japan in 2005 - but he has made 11 Ireland ‘A’ Appearances.

The former Royal Belfast Academical Institution player reaches the 300 mark with appearances last summer for the Barbarians and World XV.

Wilson, who will captain Ulster against Connacht on Friday, made his first appearance for Ulster in 2003 against Ospreys and he went on to be named Ulster player of the year in 2004-05 and 2006-07.

The consistent back row forward, who can play in any of the three positions, said: ”Ulster Rugby is a great place to be right now so I was really happy to agree a new two year deal recently..

“Physically, I feel that I am as fit and well as I have ever been and I am looking forward to making a big contribution over the next two years.

On reaching the milestone, Wilson joked that being a professional player for 13 seasons made him realise that he was getting a bit older, but it also reminded him how lucky he had been over the years.

“It is definitely a nice milestone to reach and I suppose it first of all reminds you of how fortunate I have been in respect of injuries and to be able to play the sport for that long.

“Others have had to retire early so it really hits home how fortunate I have been. To have been able to play this long is brilliant,” he said.

Having been a consistent performer for Saints - he played 100 games straight for the English side - there was to be a bit of disappointment as he made his return to Ulster and picked up an injury. He did, however, play in 13 games in 2012-13.

“It was a bit disappointing, but thankfully since then it has all been good and this season has gone okay. I think durability has been one of my strong points throughout my career.

“It is hard to believe it is 13 years since my debut. Ospreys had just become a franchise back them. I barely remember much about that first appearance, but it does show you how old I am getting.”

There have been mostly highs during the previous 299 games and winning the Celtic League in 2006 was a highlight.

“And that first season with Alan Solomons in charge was just amazing. When I came back here having played with Northampton, going over to Leicester with Ulster and beating them to top our pool in Europe with six from six was incredible.

“It was extra special for me because in all the games I had played against Leicester with Saints we never beat them at Welford Road. So to eventually beat them there felt tremendous,” added Wilson.

Wilson admits that he knows the career may be coming to an end, but he intends to give as much as he can to Ulster and he so wants to win silverware again with the Province.

“It would be nice when the time does come to reflect to have something like silverware with Ulster to talk about.

“But I also want to give something back to the game as well so hopefully I can help bring the next generation through. Some of the young backrows like Sean Reidy and Clive Ross.”

Although it is a milestone reaching night on Friday for Wilson, his focus is on helping Ulster get the victory they need to keep their PRO12 campaign going in the right direction.

Defeats to Munster and Ospreys in the last two league games have seen Ulster slip to fifth place and Connacht are just four points behind in sixth spot and targeting a rare victory in Belfast.

“There is no doubt they have been improving year after year and they are coming here sitting strongly in the league and having pushed Leinster close last week. They also had two good wins in Europe (Challenge Cup) so they will be confident.

“They are not the team they were four or five years ago and they will no doubt see this as an opportunity to pick up another scalp.

“We have been disappointed with how things have gone this month and we have to make sure we are firing on all cylinders to get the result we need.”