Capital’s Crusaders taking cancer fight to top rugby event

Crusaders captain Duncan Wilson will lead his team at the tournament in Dubai. Picture: Dan Phillips
Crusaders captain Duncan Wilson will lead his team at the tournament in Dubai. Picture: Dan Phillips
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Passionate rugby player Duncan Wilson never thought he would play the sport again when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour.

Now, less than three years on from finishing radiotherapy treatment, the 44-year-old will be leading an Edinburgh-based team on to the pitch in Dubai for an international tournament starting on Thursday.

The Crusaders RFC – a 20-strong squad made up of players who have all survived cancer or watched a loved one battle with the disease – are taking part in the competition for players aged over 35 for the first time.

The team’s goal is to raise awareness of the tell-tale s­ymptoms of cancer amongst men on one of the sport’s ­biggest stages.

The trip has been five years in the making, with the ­Crusaders having first been formed in 2008.

Mr Wilson, from Livingston, needed an operation three years ago to remove a tumour from his pituitary gland, located at the base of his skull.The ex-Currie player subsequently underwent six weeks of intensive radiotherapy treatment, but has bounced back into action and described himself as one of the “lucky” ones.

“We were playing our annual game against a teenage kids with cancer trust and I couldn’t run, couldn’t do anything,” Mr Wilson said.

“I played about ten minutes and came off and thought to myself ‘that’s it, that’s my last game of rugby ever’. I didn’t know what was happening.

“I kept on going to see ­doctors with various symptoms. They told me I was stressed and depressed, which I felt was not quite right. Eventually I was diagnosed with having this brain tumour.”

Mr Wilson was invited ­during his recovery period to get involved with the Crusaders by club founder Mark Dainter, who had survived a tumour in his chest.

Captain Wilson said: “It’s two years down the line now and I’m actually back playing rugby again. I’ll be 45 next ­Saturday. I’m the coach at Murrayfield Wanderers and I also play off the bench for them as well. I can’t stop wanting to play rugby now.”

The side selected to r­epresent the Crusaders in the Dubai Vets competition is not solely limited to Scots.

Two players who represented Fiji at the 2003 World Cup – Apenisa Naevo and Marika Vunibaka – and New Zealand-born pair Ben Fisher and Josh Bicknell will also play.

Mr Dainter said players within the squad had also survived having testicular cancer. He said “fronting up” would be the theme of the awareness-raising mission, with men encouraged to talk, check and ultimately react to cancer.

The veterans’ tournament is coinciding with the three-day Dubai Ruby Sevens.

The Crusaders will be one of 16 teams fighting to progress through the pool stage to reach the competition’s knockout rounds.

“None of the players representing the Crusaders are paid,” Mr Dainter said. “Any funds raised go into ensuring that this ‘education roadshow’ continues to travel and collect momentum. This was a goal we’d always set ourselves to do and thanks to the help of a couple of sponsors we’re able to achieve it this year.”