Roger Wilson as competitive as ever in battle for Ulster spot
WITH his 35th birthday creeping up in September, Roger Wilson has gotten used to being the oldest kid on the block.
The Ulster number eight has seen a lot of changes at Kingspan since he first joined the province in 2003. While some of his best years were given to Northampton, where he helped knock Ulster out of the Heineken Cup in 2011, home has always been where his heart is.
He has no intention yet of letting the curtain come down on his career. Sixteen appearances this season, 10 from the start, indicate that Les Kiss has a liking for his experience in the back-row.
“I certainly get enough stick and reminded of it often enough,” laughed Wilson of being the oldest player in the squad.
“You do feel it a bit. Come game time, you’re generally okay because you’ve had a chance to do your recovery. But the period after the game, two days after is always the worst. Coming into training at the start of the week is difficult, but they manage the old boys okay and sometimes let them away off training sessions, so it’s not too bad.
“They [the coaches] try to keep you as competitive as ever and to make sure you don’t use it as an excuse to ease off. It’s more of an individual thing than the coaches trying to have a go at you. Sometimes in the gym, for example, if you see young guys competing with you or overtaking you, from a personal pride point of view, you don’t want to fall behind.”
Ulster began a run of six games without their internationals by securing a bonus point win over a Treviso side that, despite a 26-game losing streak, had taken seven losing bonus points at home this season. Wilson played the 80 minutes and feels the leadership of the remaining elder statesmen will be crucial over the next five games, the next three of which are at home.
“This time of year has really tested our squad. It always does with so many boys away to the Six Nations," he said.
“There’s been a real emphasis in the last few weeks on making sure the young guys are up to speed on all the plays and what we’re doing, so that if they are called upon, the transition’s made a bit earlier. The young lads that have come in haven’t let us down at all, they’ve done really well.
“It’s an opportunity for other senior players to stick their hand up, the likes of myself, Ian Humphreys have been around a while, Nick [Williams], Franco [van der Merwe]. I think we have plenty of cover. With Rob [Herring] potentially being away and Rory [Best], it’s up to the rest of the players to stand up.”
Newport Gwent Dragons visit the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night for the weekend’s only Guinness Pro12 game. Currently sitting fifth in the table, victory would take Ulster top of the table. However, they face a visiting side who were buoyed by a good win over an admittedly weakened Leinster last weekend.
The Dragons are also relatively unaffected by the Six Nations, with Toby Faletau likely to be the only player Warren Gatland holds on to ahead of Wales’ trip to Dublin on Sunday.
“He’ll probably be the big loss for them. They had a big win last weekend. But we can’t look at them too much, we have to focus on ourselves,” said Wilson.
“We have boys who are more than capable of stepping in and taking the places of the boys who are away with Ireland. They’ve done pretty well so far this season. They’re tricky. They have good line speed, they come up hard and try to put pressure on you. They make it difficult in around the breakdown and they can be a bit niggly.
“We’re back at home for a few weeks, but we have to make sure we don’t just rely on home advantage getting us over the line. We have to make sure we’re at our best.”
They will again be without Chris Henry, whose Six Nations hopes will stay on ice as long as it stays applied to his troublesome shoulder. Nick Williams should be back in contention though after training well on Tuesday.