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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019

Addison relishing Racing trip and another chance to impress for Ulster

The 26-year-old is touted by many as potential Ireland call-up next month.

HE’S POSSIBLY THE most talked-about uncapped players in Ireland right now, and one of the most humble.

Broach the subject of a potential international call-up to Will Addison and he’ll bat it away in the blink of an eye. But his performances for Ulster ensure the question still stands.

It’s no secret that Joe Schmidt is among Addison’s admirers and had a role to play in his move to Ulster over the summer. So an excellent run of form merely underlines reasons he will be considered for November Tests.

Will Addison Addison on the run during the win over Leicester. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A versatile back, the 26-year-old is adept at wing or fullback as well as his preferred position of outside centre and his former club Sale were sad the see the back of his  leadership qualities.

So. About that potential Ireland call-up next week?

“I’ve just been focusing on my rugby (at Ulster),” the Penrith-born centre, who qualifies for Ireland through his Fermanagh-born mother, insists.

“I’ve been enjoying it and (international rugby) is kind of secondary. If that were to happen it would be an absolute privilege but I’ve got to play more than three games, that’s all I’ve played for Ulster so far.

“My focus is just on playing well this weekend coming.”

He has been something of a revelation at Ulster since joining. After losing superstar All Black utility back Charles Piutau to Bristol in the off-season, the fact that Addison has slipped in seamlessly to Ulster’s back line speaks volumes for his quality and adaptability.

Indeed, perhaps the only thing that has curtailed Addison’s rise so far has been his fitness. An injury while on tour in South Africa followed on from a bout of illness that kept him out of the Southern Kings game. Then came a back strain, something that plagued him years ago, and kept him out of the defeats to Munster and Connacht before his impressive return in the win over Leicester Tigers.

One wonders how strong the international calls might have been had he played those four games.

“I don’t think I’ll be going back to South Africa in a hurry,” he jokes. “I had a bit of illness the first week and then coming back from that we had 10 hours of travel between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, and that took it out of me more than I realised.

Will Addison with Clayton Blommetjies and David Bulbring Addison gets an offload away against Scarlets. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I had a back history and I’d been to training and at altitude and a combination of all that just pulled me back a little bit. The medical team worked on me and had me in tip-top shape going into Europe.”

When he first arrived on the island, there was some trepidation on Addison’s behalf – a new team and new coaches to both get to know and impress. But even with his admittedly high standards, Addison does at least concede that he didn’t expect the transition from the Sharks to Ulster would go as smoothly as it has.

“I think that’s part of me pushing myself and the coaches pushing me and the players around me have been of such a high standard that I have to meet those standards as well,” he reveals.

It’s really nice having a vision of where we want to go. We’ve got this ‘fight for every inch mentality’ and the mentality to play with real speed. That’s where we want to go and every week there have been improvements.

“As an individual we have the same things and we know where we want to go. I feel that every week I can hit certain benchmarks.”

Now he’s into the thick of things, and there’s no looking back. He may have only played three games, but Ulster are six games into their domestic campaign and have one down in Europe too.

Having experienced the in-and-out nature of Sale’s involvement in Europe, Addison was thrilled at the chance to impress.

“(Sale) were always a kind of ‘yo-yo’ team and it was always tough in the Premiership to qualify,” he points out.

Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks - Aviva Premiership - Sandy Park Addison making a carry against Exeter last season. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“(Playing in the Heineken Champions Cup) was one of the main reasons for me coming here, it was to have that opportunity almost year in, year out in the Champions Cup.

“To play at the Kingspan in the first game of the Champions Cup was a real privilege. The atmosphere is incredible.

“For the best part of playing nine years for Sale I think I only won away to (Leicester) once and beat them twice or three times, so to beat them for the first time for Ulster was great.”

Where he can really make a mark, however, is this week against the European giants that are Racing 92 and their star-studded line-up in the U Arena tomorrow (5:30pm kick-off Irish time).

With star of the future Michael Lowry likely pencilled in at full-back again, Addison should return to the outside centre jersey alongside Stuart McCloskey.

That would mean opposing the relatively inexperienced Olivier Klemenczak with an opportunity to put in another performance that really catches the eye of suitor Schmidt.

After defeating the Tigers last week, any points from this game would put Ulster in an excellent position after two games if they want to progress from their pool for the first time since 2014.

And, unlike most of this Ulster squad, Addison has one thing that will stand him in good stead going to the French capital tomorrow: experience of a win in France. Not that that will make it any easier, in his opinion.

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

“Playing away trips in Europe is immensely hard because of the crowd and the way it really gets up against you.

“It can be a really tough place to go depending on how the start of the game goes and that’s an area we’re really targeting because if you can manage to silence the crowd over in France it can really help you out. When they’re on your back it can be really tough.

“I always look forward to the French trips and it was straight on my family’s calendar as soon it came up that we were in Paris. They’re making the trip over from both here and over in England.”

In front of his family, Addison will look to continue his good form for Ulster in the unfamiliar surroundings of the indoor arena, justifying all of the plaudits that have come his way already this season.

And perhaps there’ll be another set of eyes watching too, with more than just a passing interest.

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