Super eight ready for more exposure
Roger Wilson is enjoying the winning life back home in Ulster, writes JOHNNY WATTERSON
ROGER WILSON’S timing has been very good. Wilson left when Ulster were struggling and returns during an unprecedented phase where they have won all of their first eight games in PRO12 and Heineken Cup.
He earned his lone Ireland cap on tour to Japan in 2005 and while his years with Northampton might have taken him out of view of the Irish selectors, the number eight has returned on a three-year contract. That’s not bad for a 31-year-old.
“Yeah, and being on a winning streak does make life more enjoyable,” he says. “Lose and you dread those video analyses.”
While Wilson’s omission from past and current Ireland squads may have caused personal frustration, he’s probably not alone in the oval world at feeling some consternation about the embrace of non-national players, with Richardt Strauss and also CJ Stander part of the vogue.
“I don’t agree with the three-year residency rule,” says the 31-year-old. “I think it’s an easy way for players to get capped. But they are the rules and you have to exploit the rules if they are there.
“I think it might harm the chances of young Irish players coming through in certain positions.”
In fairness to Wilson, he did not know that the South African Stander, who has just arrived in Munster, is a player who has filled all the backrow positions. His point is a general one.
“To me it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. There is always young Irish talent coming through. Why not make them a three year project?”
While Stephen Ferris, Craig Gilroy and Paul Marshall have been released for tomorrow’s game, 11 Ulster players will remain with the Ireland set-up as they prepare for the autumn internationals against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.
Importantly for Ulster, Ruan Pienaar will also be available for the PRO12 clash against Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh, before joining up with the Springboks squad next week.
Fellow South African Robbie Diack has recovered from a knee injury and could play his first game since the opening weekend of the season. Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Niall Annett, Rob Herring and Ali Birch are also added to the extended group of forwards.
Wilson will also face his old club in back to back matches in the next round of the Heineken Cup, a similar experience to when he first joined Northampton as they faced Ulster in a semi-final shortly after he arrived.
“It was good for me to leave and now at 31, it’s good for me to get a three-year contract,” he says. “Ulster now are realistic competitors in both the PRO12 and the Heineken Cup. Edinburgh had a great season last year and while they’d a shaky start this year they have quality right through the team and the players they have from South Africa give them added strength. I suppose we’re the ones people are now talking about but that’s just a function of our success.”
The Ulster backs will have a youthful look this weekend with six of the 12 named in the 27-man squad having five Ulster appearance or less to their name. Michael Heaney, Stuart Olding, Peter Nelson, Mike Allen, Chris Cochrane and Ricky Andrew have all been included.
ULSTER: Forwards(15) – R Herring, N Brady, N Annett, C Black, R Lutton, A Macklin, J Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, N McComb, M McComish, S Ferris, R Diack, A Birch, R Wilson, N Williams. Backs(12) – P Marshall, M Heaney, R Pienaar, N O’Connor, Stuart Olding, P Wallace, M Allen, P Nelson, C Gilroy, C Cochrane, J Payne, R Andrew.