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'I was really keen to get him here because he's a classy footballer'

Irish-qualified Will Addison has made a big early impression at Ulster after his summer move from Sale Sharks.

THE MATCH-WINNING exploits of John Cooney have dominated the headlines for Ulster in the first two weeks of the new season, but Will Addison has been equally impressive in the fullback jersey, his excellent skills coming to the fore already.

The 26-year-old has hit the ground running at the northern province since his summer arrival from Sale Sharks, and certainly his capture appears to be an incredibly shrewd piece of business by Bryn Cunningham.  

Will Addison and Simon Hickey Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

After a decade at the Premiership club, where he was captain, Addison returned to his mother’s native province this summer thanks to a clause agreed in his Sale contract that allowed him an early exit if one of this island’s four professional teams sought out his services.

Following the departure of Charles Piutau and retirements of Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe and record try-scorer Andrew Trimble, the Irish-qualified back received a phone call from his former team-mate Dwayne Peel — now Ulster’s attack coach — last April to see ‘where is head was it’.

The timing was perfect, and Addison had no hesitation in accepting the offer to move to Belfast and begin a new chapter in his career, one he hopes will include international honours with Ireland.

Indeed, the former England U20 international was called in to train with Joe Schmidt’s squad during the summer tour of Australia, adding further to the excitement among Ulster fans over what he would bring to the club.

And Addison hasn’t disappointed in the opening two rounds of Guinness Pro14 action, following up his lively display against Scarlets with another impressive showing in Friday night’s win over Edinburgh.

It was clear from the outset that his aerial ability is very strong but as the game became fast and loose, Addison came into his own and made a number of breaks, carried 96 metres and beat four defenders, while also scoring his first Ulster try — a moment he said he’d never forget — which started his side’s remarkable second-half revival. 

He also created Cooney’s try, his involvement particularly special and another example of his explosive running game, as Addison linked with the scrum-half before showing his pace and a devastating step and offload back inside to set Cooney away under the posts. 

“I thought he was very good, if I’m honest,” Peel said after Friday’s game.

“He’s a constant threat with ball in hand, he’s a silky runner. I played with him when he was a young guy and you could see he had some good qualities, and I was really keen to get him here because I knew he could add to our squad.

“Speaking from personal experience and from what I’ve seen, I think he’s doing an excellent job — he looks a classy footballer to me.”

It’s still early days but the addition of Addison may well be one of the signings of the season, even if it had gone under the radar to this point because of the higher-profile arrivals of Jordi Murphy, Henry Speight and Marty Moore at Kingspan Stadium.

Will Addison with Ben Toolis and Stuart McInally Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Peel added: “He’s a good rugby player, you put him any team he’s going to show his qualities, and I don’t think we’ve seen half of what he can do yet.

“He’s got a good kicking game, good distribution and he looks like a classy runner when he runs. He shows good desire as well across the board, he’s a tough guy. Gets up for balls well, chases kicks, I think he’s done really well.”

Craig Gilroy, who made a lightning break down the right wing from his own 22 to surpass Andrew Trimble as the province’s leading try-scorer in the Pro14, was full of praise for his team-mate.

“I really like playing with Will,” Friday’s man of the match said.

“We’ve obviously had a good pre-season, eight-nine weeks together, and I’ve got to know him and I’ve enjoyed playing with him.

“He seems to have a lot of time on the ball and I’ve been working off him. He likes to run and attack, which suits me. We were probably fighting for the ball at one stage but it’s good.”

Cooney’s last-gasp penalty made it two wins from two for Ulster under Dan McFarland heading into their two-week tour of South Africa, where they will face the Southern Kings and Cheetahs in rounds three and four.

While nobody is getting carried away, the first two performances and results have left grounds for optimism and the addition of the likes of Addison and Murphy — who made his debut against Edinburgh — augurs well.

“There is a lot of positives,” Gilroy continued. “I feel like the coaching staff have done really well and gelled together and pre-season was just a good pre-season which was hard to believe given the changes we had but it was great and everyone worked hard.

There’s a good ethos and we’ve got guys back from injury, Marcell [Coetzee] back is such a lift. We’ve got Jordi who is a seasoned Ireland international and young guys coming through putting there hand up.

“It’s good and there’s good competition there and there are no big egos, everyone is pretty level-headed and everyone knows what the goal is, to work hard for each other and for the team.”

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Ryan Bailey

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