Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Ulster

Ulster 28-43 Barbarians: Roger Wilson keen to put on show in final  game against Baa-Baas

By Jonathan Bradley

Having worn the Ulster jersey over 200 times, Roger Wilson's one final run-out in white will come tonight against the Barbarians with the back-rower admitting the end of his last season has taken on the feeling of one long goodbye.

The 35-year-old has already bade one farewell to Kingspan Stadium when he signed off with a try in the final game of the season against Leinster.

Never one for outward shows of emotion, even Wilson was left to momentarily consider if he'd already had the perfect send-off to his career.

"That's the thing, after that game, it was almost the fairy-tale ending," said the man who will surely raise a few opposition eyebrows turning out for junior side Instonians next season.

"For a few days after, I did almost wish that was the last game."

Had that come to pass, however, Wilson would have had some explaining to do to his friends, some of whom have had quite the journey to get here for his last game.

"I've got my best man coming over from Dubai and another good friend who always said they'd come over for my last game," he explained.

"I didn't know I'd be playing against Leinster so we just decided on this one so I'd definitely be involved. They'd booked their flights and everything so I'll have to play.

"Obviously I'm happy enough to, I doubt I'll be playing 80 minutes but it'll be nice to pull on that jersey for the very last time."

But having crossed for a rare try in his last competitive game against Leinster at the beginning of May, does he feel under pressure to dot down again on what will actually be his final game?

"It'll be tough to keep up that great record," he laughed. "It'll be another couple years before I score again at my strike-rate but it'll be nice to go out and throw the ball around a little bit.

"I think the main thing is that we want to put in a good performance but also make it a good spectacle of rugby. It'll be quite a casual build-up compared to the usual but on the night, in front of your home crowd, there's still that responsibility for the jersey. We're looking forward to it."

And indeed it should be an interesting spectacle on which to bow out.

With Ruan Pienaar also saying goodbye to Kingspan, the experienced pair will be the co-captains of a youthful line-up that will surely relish the opportunity of playing such famous visitors.

Indeed, the experienced Wilson has an interesting take on tonight's opponents.

A side he represented back in 2014 when they took on an England XV, Wilson remembers playing for a team at something of a cross-roads.

While the Barbarians were once the highlight of any rugby tour, three years ago they were being seen as something of an anachronism, a part of the game that was being left behind by professionalism.

For all the memories of 1973, Gareth Edwards, and that unforgettable game against the All Blacks, there was a real danger of the famous black and white hoops losing some of their appeal.

But, in the wake of six-try 59-8 defeat to the British and Irish Lions in the heat of Hong Kong in 2013, the next tours have been seen almost as exercises in redemption with the likes of England, Ireland, Fiji and Samoa all having been beaten since that loss four years ago.

Indeed, their performance against Fiji in Belfast back in November was convincing in the extreme and one only has to look at the names on show this evening - Alex Goode, Facundo Isa, Thierry Dusautoir and Rory Kockott among others - to know that coach Vern Cotter has assembled quite an outfit.

As a player who made his Ulster debut when professionalism was still in its nascent days, Wilson is pleased to see the tradition enjoy something of a renaissance.

"The year before I played, they'd went over and played against the Lions and had a record defeat," recalled Ulster's record appearance maker.

"And from what I gathered the committee had a sit down and just said there was no point just gathering these players and having the craic during the week. They wanted to honour the badge a bit more and the year I played they sat us all down and addressed that, they showed us videos of the past big wins and great tries.

"They have probably moved away from that idea that it's just a party for a week. They want to get some wins and you've seen that in the past years.

"You have to have that happy medium if you're playing against international teams who are very well prepared. If you go out and get 50 points put on you game in and game out, the thing is not going to survive. They'll want to get the balance right."

Ulster v Barbarians: P Nelson; M Keane, C Patterson, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Herron, R Pienaar (Joint Captain); A Warwick, R Herring, R Ah You; A O'Connor, P Browne; M Rea, C Ross, R Wilson (Joint Captain).

Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall, R Kane, S Mulholland, C Henry, P Marshall, D Shanahan, C Smith, R Lutton.

Widget page
Widget page

From Belfast Telegraph