Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Ulster Rugby's Roger Wilson has a special reason for wanting to reach Heineken Cup final

So much experience has been clocked up that it's hard to know where to start with Roger Wilson.

He played on the Ulster side coached by Mark McCall which lifted the Celtic League back in 2006, which brought the side their last feel of silverware, and then –after both men had exited Ravenhill – while in Northampton Saints' colours he went on to regularly play against Saracens sides prepared by McCall in the hothouse of the English Premiership.

And that's not all. Wilson was also a key part of the Saints squad which in 2011 made it to the final, having been unbeaten in the pool stages, only for Leinster to astonishingly lift the cup after Wilson and his team-mates looked to have done everything required to win when leading 22-6 at half-time.

Just in case you hadn't noticed, Ulster also won all their pool clashes this season and – look away if you're superstitious – no side has ever gone on to lift the trophy after triumphing in all six pool games.

"Yes, nobody has done it," Wilson admits when the statistic is floated in his direction.

"But records are there to be broken so eventually a team is going to do it and with a bit of luck it will be us this year," adds the 32-year-old back rower.

"I had a few years with Mark," he recalls of McCall's three years (2004-7) as Ulster coach.

"We won the Celtic League and everything was great but then it took a turn for the worse a year after and we weren't performing well in Europe and things started to fall apart a bit.

"It was a difficult time and we had pretty inexperienced coaches," Wilson rightly says of the McCall and Allen Clarke ticket.

"Without laying the blame on them, we didn't have the same squad that we do now or the same finances.

"Mark has gone away and been hugely successful with Saracens and he'll want to come back here and put one over on Ulster," he adds.

After moving back home in 2012, Wilson's insight into the Saracens' way may have been somewhat diluted, but he has still accumulated useful knowledge of McCall's approach.

"You can see the way he implemented the style and game-plan that they want to play," states Wilson, who missed out on crossing swords with McCall's side at last year's European quarter-final defeat at Twickenham due to injury.

"They do the basics very well," he says of the current Premiership leaders. "They are a very difficult side to break down and that is how they have had their success in the last few years," Wilson adds without, understandably, elaborating on several areas Ulster have identified as key pressure points.

One plan he is willing to discuss is the hope that he can get to a Heineken Cup final again though, this time, if achieved, the idea is to make it all a rather more memorable experience.

"We should have won it," he reflects on that traumatic experience playing for Saints at the Millennium Stadium in 2011. We were 16 points up at half-time and it (the second 40 minutes) is one of those halves of rugby that you'd really want to erase from your memory," Wilson recalls, though clearly keen to move on.

He will make his 152nd Ulster appearance on Saturday and while name-checking Owen Farrell and Steve Borthwick as two pivotal players for Saracens, Wilson focuses on an area where he will have to excel if Ulster are to progress.

"When you look at the games they have lost in both Europe (two this season) and the Premiership (again just two this campaign) they were targeted at the breakdown, physically they were beaten so we are going to have to do that this weekend."

And if you thought he was an emotion-free zone over another huge game in his lengthy career, Wilson makes clear that, yes, it can get to him too.

"These are the games you just love playing in and just because you're a bit older it doesn't mean it hits you any less."

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