THE THICK CUMBRIA accent aside, Will Addison’s Ulster connection runs strong.
“My mum’s from Enniskillen… she went to Trinity University at 21, met a farmer and got stuck in England.”
The 25-year-old returned to his mother’s native province this summer thanks to a clause agreed in his two-year-old Sale Sharks contract that allowed him an early exit if one of this island’s four professional teams sought out his services.
As Ulster’s once-stacked back-line became depleted with the departure of Charles Piutau and retirements of Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe and record try-scorer Andrew Trimble, Addison’s luck was in. A phone call from his former team-mate Dwayne Peel stoked a once hypothetical interest in moving out of the Premiership.
“I loved my time a Sale,” says Addison, who cut the cord after almost a decade with the club, “Steve Diamond – who was a mentor and a kind of a father figure for me – he made sure there was a clause in the contract that if an Irish team came calling, and I felt it was the right time for me to make a move, it was in there.”
“I was captain at Sale, it was a club that I loved and was invested in. But the opportunity to come to Ulster was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down — it was a now or never moment. I didn’t want to end my career in 10 years thinking ‘what if?’
Crossing the Irish Sea, of course, means Addison hopes to win senior international caps to frame above his England U20 honours. In June, he was invited to train with Joe Schmidt’s squad as they prepared to travel to Australia. Having seen and felt the standard at close quarters, he’s under no illusions that Schmidt’s hand will be easily swayed his way.
“First things first I’ve got to get in the team in Ulster. I’m enjoying JP (Jared Payne) and Peely, they’re pushing me every week. If I keep doing that I can fulfil my potential and, I’d like to think, that would push me to those international standards.
“I’m excited about just becoming a better player with Ulster and I think the challenge we’ve got here with a young group is an exciting one.”
Fuelling that ambition brings Addison right back under his family tree. He has beaten a path to Fermanagh where his mother’s sisters ensure he hasn’t been left wanting for calories during a tough pre-season.
“I have a good strong family connection in Enniskillen, my aunties have been giving me some good home cooking every weekend so far, I’m being well looked after in Fermanagh and I’m loving Belfast as well.”
Addison is eagerly awaiting some food for thought with his first taste of the Pro14 too. He will meet relatively familiar faces when Gloucester (who he will debut against on Saturday) and Wasps provide pre-season opposition, but the start of the new campaign is coming down the track fast for Ulster.
Addison in action against Exeter last season. Source: PA Wire/PA Images
The northern province look set to be without a head coach for the first half of the season and an early run of fixtures pitting them against Scarlets and Edinburgh before two rounds in South Africa would be a challenge with all hands on deck.
“Myself and Billy Burns are really excited about a new competition,” says Addison, who prefers centre out of the range of positions he covers as utility back, “the two weeks in South Africa is a really good chance for some team-building which is important for the young squad that we have got. We’re just going to take it week in, week out and see how we attack the season.”
“We have a huge amount of young players that are going to get some time in pre-season which is exciting and giving them a sense of what men’s rugby is about, myself, Billy and Marty (Moore) will get a taste of what the Kingspan is about on Saturday and I’m really excited about that.”
“We just want to build on what Peely and JP have been doing this pre-season they have done some tremendous work and the platform is there and we want to put our best foot forward.”
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