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'I wouldn't have been a name that leapt off the page for Irish fans'

Will Addison recently signed a new two-year deal to keep him with Ulster.

KEEPING ACTIVE OVER the last nine weeks hasn’t been too difficult for Will Addison, who moved home to the family farm in Cumbria in northwest England just before lockdown started.

The Ulster and Ireland back has just returned to Belfast but he has been busy over the past couple of months with 5.30am starts to milk the 200-strong dairy herd, learning the ropes from his father as he got a taste of the work “that potentially I’ll go back to once I retire.”

Addison has farming connections in Ireland too thanks to his mother’s side of the family, with relatives owning a poultry farm in Monaghan, as well as a beef and dairy in Fermanagh – giving him the chance to get even more work experience if he wants it.

will-addison Addison joined Ulster from Sale Sharks in 2018. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But still only 27 and having just signed a new two-year contract with Ulster, life after rugby isn’t something Addison has to consider too urgently just yet.

Agreeing that contract extension was an “easy decision” for the former Sale Sharks captain, who points to Ulster’s progress under Dan McFarland and his exciting young coaching group and a playing squad that has plenty of youthful talent too. Heading into his third season with the northern province, Addison feels they can compete for trophies.

Of course, it was the lure of Ireland caps that played a major role in Addison – who is very versatile but predominantly plays at fullback and outside centre – being convinced to move from Sale by Joe Schmidt.

Addison made his Test debut in November 2018 against Italy but has won only three more caps since, largely due to his frustrating injury issues.

After recovering from a cruelly-timed back injury, Addison made a late bid for a place in the World Cup squad last year but came up short, while a persistent calf injury prevented him from featuring in this year’s Six Nations under new boss Andy Farrell.

Those setbacks have only increased Addison’s determination to wear the green jersey again.

“I’m massively aspirational,” he says. “When I first came over I wouldn’t have been a name that leapt off the page for Irish fans but it was something that I really wanted to do.

will-addison Addison has won four caps for Ireland so far. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“First and foremost, it was playing for Ulster but backing myself and backing my own talent, I wanted to be in that Ireland frame as well and I was fortunate to do that in my first year.

“It’s definitely in the forefront of my mind – I want to be in that squad, then challenging for a starting place and challenging for trophies as well. That came into the decision for sure and hopefully I can put my best foot forward in the next few seasons.”

Addison has been on a bumpy road with his injury issues but he’s thankful that the lockdown has allowed him to put the calf problem behind him and work on other little niggles that he had been carrying while playing. He says he’s now fully fit for the return of rugby.

“I’m one of the lucky ones in that the pandemic gave me a chance to rehab the body and refresh. It’s really beneficial for me in that way.

“It has been one of the most frustrating seasons personally – just a lot of highs and lows and I’ve had to learn about myself.

“I’ve gone through a lot of injuries in my career and probably dealt with them quite well but with a World Cup squad after the back injury, then not making the plane, then thinking there was a chance to make it, it’s been really up-and-down.

“A couple of knocks through the season, but still making the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, more highs and lows. Then the Six Nations and really feeling like I could stake a claim before the body let me down again.

will-addison Addison has signed a new two-year contract with Ulster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think it’s testament to the environment that Faz has been able to create already that even with me feeling miserable with my calf I really enjoyed the time I had in camp. I’m really looking forward to being in that environment fully fit and raring to go.”

First things first, Addison is eager to get back on the pitch with Ulster as soon as possible as they continue their growth under McFarland.

Addison loves the detail and rugby knowledge that assistant coaches like Jared Payne and Dwayne Peel – his former team-mate in Sale – offer and says that McFarland has a great ability to develop players beyond the technical and tactical.

“It’s how important how he is as a man-manager,” says Addison of McFarland. “He’s a real student of the likes of basketball and the NFL, and he’s one to encourage us to look outside of rugby and see what we can learn from other sports.

“The most popular one at the minute is The Last Dance, and trying to cultivate a winning mindset and a get-better-every-day mindset.

“That growth mindset is something that Dan has really identified and that’s something I’ve really learnt from him and hopefully will keep doing so in the next few years.”

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Murray Kinsella

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