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'Phenomenal' Roger Wilson hailed as he prepares for 200th Ulster cap

By Jonathan Bradley

Ever dependable No.8 Roger Wilson is poised to make his 200th Ulster appearance against Scarlets on Sunday with team-mates and management hailing the 34-year-old's durability.

Rarely injured, Wilson will become only the second player to hit the total - the first being Andrew Trimble against Munster in the first game of 2016 - and the landmark would have come much sooner if not for a successful stint at Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership.

Highly-rated at Franklin's Gardens during his four-year stay, Wilson turned out for the Midlands outfit on more than 100 occasions, including a Heineken Cup final against Leinster, before returning to his native province in 2012.

Ulster head coach Neil Doak thinks racking up such career totals is testament to Wilson's hard work over the years.

"To play that amount of games is a credit to him," said Doak. "It's a credit to the way he's looked after his body.

"He hasn't had too many injuries which is a huge aspect of playing this game now.

"When Roger came back, I think he tore his hamstring in one of his final games for Northampton but he's been so durable here."

A player he describes as "phenomenal", Wilson's team-mate Paul Marshall says it would be a fitting tribute for the Instonians man to win his 200th cap this weekend in front of a home crowd.

"As a back-rower, 200 games here, and over 100 at Northampton, Roger has been phenomenal for so long," said the scrum-half.

"It's his durability and that physicality.

"I admire him as a player and a person in his willingness to keep going. He's available to train almost every day.

"He's had a brilliant career, and it's not over yet, but it would be fantastic for him if he did get the 200th at home this weekend."

If not for the presence of Jamie Heaslip at the base of Ireland's scrum for the better part of a decade, Wilson surely would have won more than the solitary Irish cap - his grandfather and two uncles also represented the national side - he collected against the Japanese back in 2005.

Further representative honours did come in the shape of call-ups to a World XV and the Barbarians but it is during these international windows that Doak is especially pleased to have the calming influence of Wilson's vast experience.

"This year especially, he's been very good and he's key for us during this period," added the head coach.

"He's a player we need to stand up and be counted, especially up front. That solidity can launch our younger backs and give them a chance to shine."

Elsewhere for Ulster, Doak says the province will take their time before deciding whether to include Ruan Pienaar in today's selection.

The star scrum-half went off last week against Glasgow with a suspected concussion and has been going through the return to play protocols. Given the nature of the injury, Doak says no risks will be taken.

"The way the game is played now, the collisions are phenomenal and you have to manage the players' welfare as paramount," he said.

"He'll do the return to play protocols but it's certainly not something we take lightly. Ultimately, it's a sport, a professional sport, and we've got to make sure that whoever takes the field is in prime condition.

"Twenty weeks in, everyone has bumps and bruises, but with regards to bangs to the head you've got to be 100 per cent sure.

"The Sunday game gives him a couple of days so we don't have to make a late call or anything. We can get him on the paddock later in the week if he's ready for it."

Should Pienaar not be fit, Marshall will be expected to deputise once again while hooker Rob Herring is also seen as a major doubt.

Belfast Telegraph


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