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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 28 February 2021

'I always liked to be the different one in school, supporting Ireland'

Will Addison has his sights on a home debut on Saturday evening after winning his first Ireland cap last weekend.

WILL ADDISON IS the new man in the hot seat. A new face around Carton House, this his first real taste of match week in and around the bubble. Granted he made his Ireland debut in Chicago on Saturday, but the intensity — the stakes — have gone up a couple of notches already. This is why he upped sticks and moved across the water. 

Addison’s alternative route to international rugby has been well documented at this stage. Growing up in England, he was always of green persuasion, from idolising Brian O’Driscoll to ‘being different’ in school because he supported Ireland. He was even at the 2015 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina as a fan. There are no doubts over his heritage. 

Will Addison Addison at Carton House earlier. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Three short years later, here he is, sitting at the top of the press conference room in Carton House. Wearing the IRFU polo, as an Ireland international, as an increasingly valuable member of Joe Schmidt’s squad.

“Yeah, it’s really strange,” he laughs, thinking back to that painful day in Cardiff, when he watched on with his parents, Chris and Caroline. 

“Looking at that kind of game, that kind of atmosphere, you watch what Ireland have done since then, it’s hard not to harbour those ambitions [of playing for Ireland], yeah.”

And then Joe rang, the wheels were set in motion and so began his fast-tracked journey to Test rugby, via Ulster. 

“To have that kind of contact off probably one of the best coaches in the world lights that fire inside you,” he says.

I’ve got an Irish mother, who instilled in me a real passion for Ireland. Brian O’Driscoll was my hero growing up so I always liked to be the different one in school, supporting Ireland when I was younger.  

“Since that moment I spoke to Joe, I’ve had a great experience.” 

Addison hoped to be involved in Ireland’s summer tour of Australia after his switch to the northern province had been confirmed before the end of last season, but when he wasn’t he still got the chance to join up with the squad in Melbourne.

It offered the 26-year-old a first introduction to the environment Schmidt has cultivated and the standards demanded by the Kiwi in every session, whether it’s on the training paddock or off the field learning plays and patterns.

“I was always going to go over to Australia in my off-season this year,” he explains. “My younger sister had spent eight months in Melbourne and she had a fantastic time there so it was always the plan to go over there.

“I thought there was a chance I could be in the squad but unfortunately didn’t quite make it, but Joe was aware of my travel plans anyway. It just happened to work out I could have a couple of days in Melbourne with the guys.”

And when Addison was involved in Ireland’s two-day camp at Carton in August, it was clear Schmidt was a fan and keen to take a closer look at the versatile back he had earmarked as a player with huge potential a couple of years out.

Describing his debut moment at Soldier Field as a day he ‘will cherish for the rest of my life’, Addison came off the bench for a 20-minute cameo against Italy and is now in line for a home debut against Argentina at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Will Addison The 26-year-old could make his home debut this weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With Rob Kearney struggling to shake off the shoulder injury he sustained in Treviso 10 days ago, Addison is one of three options for Schmidt to deputise at fullback, with Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway also pushing for a start against the Pumas.

The former England U20 international’s versatility — he has played at fullback, on the wing and at out-half for Ulster already this term — could work in his favour in this regard. 

“I think throughout my career, my versatility has always kind of helped me, whether that was slotting in on the wing, fullback or centre, it’s always kind of helped me,” he continued.

“I think coming into an environment like this and the knowledge I need to draw upon, it’s good to know a few different roles, again, I’m new to working with Joe, with Faz [Andy Farrell] — I’m just trying to impress them week in, week out in training to see if that gets me in the frame.

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“It’s a real challenge for the guys coming in to meet the standards and I’m loving the challenge of doing that.” 

For Addison, the work extends beyond the pitch sessions. 

He has had to show huge diligence in learning and making himself familiar with the calls, plays and structures, particularly as he holds the capacity to operate in a number of positions across the backline, in a short space of time.

That in itself presents its own challenges as he settles into international rugby. 

“We have a great group of guys here who have really helped me through those kind of experiences. Luckily, I kind of had the ‘cheat code’ by going to Australia and having two days of work with them, we had the two days at Carton House in August as well, so luckily I’d taken my notes from those four days and had those lodged.

“I’m doing a bit of revision here and there and the guys in camp have been extremely helpful with me as well.

“It’s definitely not been easy slotting in, but it has been a great experience. I have great coaches up at Ulster, great players who have fitted around me, the system that we play is an attacking brand of rugby, really suits me down to the ground.

“It’s a very similar system that we have here. I’ve got some great people up in Ulster who have really pushed me to become a better player in that short period of time and that’s certainly no different here.”

In that sense, Addison is not getting ahead of himself.

Will Addison Speaking to the media on Tuesday afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

News has just emerged that Kearney is rated as 50-50 for Saturday’s game, thereby increasing his chances of being involved significantly, but the Ulster man doesn’t flinch. He knows he has his own work to get through, but is hungry to push on and show his worth.

“It’s great to get that first one [cap] out of the way and I’m looking to kick on from here really,” he adds. 

“First things first, Jordan had a fantastic game at the weekend and for me taking on my ownership, I’ve just got to keep improving and I’m still new to the structures and the regime here so I just have to really build my knowledge base and understanding of what we’re after as a team.

I have to put my hand up in training where I can and bring out the best performance in myself.

That being said, a home debut in Dublin would be pretty special.

“Yeah, it would be great. I was lucky enough to have my Mum and Dad at the game over in Chicago. Amazing experience for me to have them there but a home debut at the Aviva, somewhere where I’ve never played before.

“A couple of my uncles up in Monaghan and Enniskillen have all bought season tickets for Ulster so they have been able to watch me pretty much every Friday night. Then Mum and Dad and family in England have flown over so I’ve had good support in Belfast and I’m sure that will be no different down in Dublin.”

From Cardiff in 2015, Addison has come a long way. His brief on Saturday is set to extend beyond a watching one in the stands. 

“I’d love to be involved,” he smiles. 

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