From fan to the pitch - Wilson's 'dream' Ulster debut

6 months ago 106
Prop Wilson, 21, made a big impact as he made his debut off the bench in Friday's win over MunsterScott Wilson as a fan watching Ulster at Kingspan Stadium and then celebrating a win on his debut against rivals Munster on Friday

"Have you heard the news?", the physio said. "You're on the bench this weekend".

Making your debut for a boyhood club is one thing, but to do it when you least expect it is a whole different feeling.

When Scott Wilson was getting strapped up for training on Monday he thought it would be like any other week.

Train with the Ulster Academy, chilling out on a Friday night and then play for Queen's University against Buccaneers on Saturday in Division 1B of the All Ireland League.

However, the physio's words were soon confirmed by Ulster head coach Dan McFarland. Wilson, a season-ticket holder at Kingspan Stadium for 12 years, would be making his debut against Irish rivals Munster where he cheered his team on with his dad.

It perhaps should not have come as much of a shock given Ulster's growing injury list in the front row. Marty Moore and Tom O'Toole are both out injured and James French was missing following a concussion against Connacht in the previous game week.

That left Greg McGrath, a late addition to the Ulster panel after the liquidation of Jersey Reds, as the only senior tight-head prop available for selection.

So McFarland called upon 21-year-old Wilson, a Grand Slam winner with Ireland in the Under-20 Six Nations in 2022, to step into the furnace of senior rugby

"Me and my dad have been season ticket holders since I was about eight," Wilson said.

"He has been in the East Terrace for as long as I can remember. He sent me a photo last night of me standing there at 10 years old with a bald head, watching the game. This stadium wasn't even finished so that is crazy to look back on.

"There are so many [highlights as a fan] but I'd say the inter-pros are the biggest ones. Wins like that over Munster and Leinster in a tight game don't come too often so to be involved in one, I can't really get my head completely around it."

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'There were a few tears'

Expecting to get a handful of minutes at the end of the game, Wilson says his "heart sank" at half-time when he found out he would be coming on at the 50-minute mark.

Ulster were chipping away into Munster's lead as the visitors had dominated the power battle in the early stages.

Wilson entered the fray alongside veterans Iain Henderson and Rob Herring, who were making their return to domestic action following Ireland's World Cup campaign.

The young prop admits he was nervous. He certainly didn't show it.

In only his second scrum he helped win a penalty that ended Munster's dominance and allowed Ulster to clear their lines. Then there was a rampaging break that got Ulster crucial metres and won the penalty which led to Nathan Doak kicking Ulster level.

Then came the decisive try. Wilson helped get momentum from a scrum on the Munster line and Nick Timoney powered over the line. The players went straight to Wilson for the role he had played in the crucial moment.

"It was a big build-up and obviously being a 7.35pm game, it was a long day trying to keep myself busy.

"I have to give a lot of credit to Iain [Henderson] and Rob [Herring], they really helped me this week and settle the nerves. I couldn't ask for any more.

"The atmosphere was ridiculous, I've never heard anything like it.

"I was nervous getting my hands on the ball, knowing the sooner I could get my hands on the ball, the better. It's a bit of a step up from playing AIL but I definitely enjoyed it.

"It's definitely a dream come true. To get that opportunity in practically a sold-out stadium is pretty nuts."

Scott Wilson celebrates winning the Under-20 Six Nations in 2022 wit his family and friendsWilson celebrates winning the Under-20 Six Nations in 2022 wit his family and friends

It was a special moment as his dad and grandfather, who had flown from Spain to watch the game, were in the East Terrace where Wilson used to support the men in white.

Wilson admits he was so caught up in the moment he couldn't see his family during the game, which was probably a good thing as he "don't know if I'd be able to keep it together" if he caught their gaze.

He was allowed that release after the game when he met with his family, admitting "there was a few tears".

For a man who used to joke with his friends that he didn't even want to play at prop, only starting in the position to "fill a gap" with in his fourth year at Wallace High School, it was a debut to remember.

Wilson's journey is even more remarkable given his injury-hit 2022-23 season, where he had three surgeries, one on his elbow and two on his ankle, and a concussion.

"I've been lucky enough to be training with the seniors. I had a pretty tough year last year and I didn't really get much game time last year.

"My first goal was to stay on the pitch and stay fit to get game time at Queen's and then to get my [Ulster] debut, which has probably come slightly earlier than I thought it would.

"I tried to take my opportunity the best I can and I'll hopefully get a few more chances this season."

On Friday's evidence, he's certainly not done his prospects any harm.

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