Instonians RFC have received a significant boost ahead of the 2017/18 season with two highly-experienced professional players signing for the Belfast club as player-coaches.
Former Ulster number 8 Roger Wilson and recently-capped Connacht prop John Andress, who have both been playing in the English Premiership as well as the PRO12 across the last decade, will be taking up their roles in the coming weeks to aid Instonians in their bid to regain Ulster Bank League status.
Instonians were relegated from the league in 2014 and have watched their Ulster rivals Bangor and Omagh Accies both earn promotion via the All-Ireland Round Round qualifiers in the last two years.
Wilson, who is now Ulster’s most-capped ever player (221 caps) and one of an elite list of players who have made over 300 professional appearances, has enjoyed two stints at his home province, either side of a four-year spell at Northampton where he represented Saints on 117 occasions.
Andress, who also enjoyed a brief stint at Ulster, is no stranger to elite rugby, having amassed 205 caps across a multitude of professional sides, most notably Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins, Worcester Warriors and Edinburgh. The 33-year-old front rower started the current season at Munster and ended it at Connacht before retiring from professional rugby.
Director of rugby at Instonians, Wilbur Leacock, commented: “To have players of this experience and this calibre joining Instonians is a real coup. It is a statement of intent – this is a club with ambition and we have not lived up to our potential for the last three seasons.
“The team is very youthful as we are seeing more and more promising young players arriving at the club and as a result we have developed an expansive game. However, whilst this has seen us come close to securing the league, we have lacked experience to close out some key games and missed out as a result.
“Roger and John’s knowledge of the game will be a fantastic asset both on and off the field and they will be figures for many of the boys to look up to. We feel we will be very competitive in all competitions for the coming season.”
The 35-year-old Wilson stated: “This is a new stage of my career but a very exciting one. I am interested in developing my skills in the coaching arena and am pleased to be doing that with a club that has the ambition to achieve All-Ireland status.
“Instonians is a club that is full of history and whilst there remains some building and fine-tuning to be done, there is no doubt in my mind that it can reach the target of being a senior club once again.”
As a club, Instonians has been building from the ground up. Ken Keane, who is Chairman of the Rugby Committee at Shaw’s Bridge, added: “Instonians is a family club, we have always engendered a strong ethos of player development and we have a youth system from which a number of extremely talented 1st XV players have emerged.
“This begins with a strong mini and youth structure that exists within the club, providing a platform for a huge number of kids every Saturday and regularly putting out Under-14s, Under-16s and Under-18s for competitive matches with our Under-20 tournament a key fixture in the Ulster rugby calendar.
“The club’s supporters and players are extremely encouraged with the level of these signings and we are all looking forward to another exciting season of rugby.”
Both Wilson and Andress have close connections to Instonians, with Roger having attended RBAI from 1993 to 2000 and coached at the club during the 2016/17 season, and John’s brothers, Nico and Alistair, both played in the 2009 Schools Cup final.