Assured Addison steps up to the plate with aplomb
Ulster player coped remarkably well given his first unexpected home international start
Ireland’s Will Addison is tackled by Argentina’s Matias Orlando during the international clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
There was a moment at the Aviva Stadium that defined Will Addison’s pedigree as a player.
Argentina’s replacement outhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla had his opponent in the crosshairs of a tackle or thought he did, only to be left spread-eagled on the turf, arms flailing helplessly, bamboozled by Addison’s footwork.
It wasn’t simply that the 26-year-old had evaded the tackle but the second or so that ensued in which he straightened and drew another defender. The timing and weight of the pass for Jordan Larmour was perfect on an afternoon when much of Ireland’s back play was lateral, crabbing sideways, with players commandeering each other’s space.
That cameo was accompanied by a significant body of work on a remarkable evening for the Ulster player. Addison didn’t have time to be nervous, to overthink the occasion, or to dwell on the fact that he’d gone from 24th man to playing in the blink of an eye.
He estimated that it was roughly 20-minutes prior to kickoff when he was informed that Robbie Henshaw’s hamstring had stiffened up. A decision was taken to promote Addison. He got the tail end of the team warm-up as a starter rather than a human tackle bag or shadow.
The boy who grew up in Penrith supporting Ireland because of his Enniskillen-born mum, oblivious to the ribbing at school, who idolised Brian O’Driscoll as a young player and was now about to pull on that green number 13 jersey, who left the English rugby pathway and the Sale Sharks behind, was about to fulfil a major ambition; playing for Ireland in Dublin.
What inoculated him against nerves – it was after all only his second cap having made his debut in Chicago the previous Saturday and he had been running mostly at fullback in training – was the attention to detail Ireland coach Joe Schmidt demands in the manner in which his charges prepare. It is an effective buffer against uncertainty.
Speaking afterwards, Addison reaffirmed that assertion: “I don’t think I would have coped today without that amount of pressure that we have week in week out. The pressure is really on us to know our role and understand what our role requires.
“When I get thrown in at the deep end that’s what I fall back to. I know that I have coped in training, which is a very high intensity, and that gives me the confidence that I can cope at international level too.
“The last few months helped, having a few days in camp in Australia [during the summer] gave me a taste for the environment and then I had a weekend in August. Last week was great especially being away in Chicago with the group; it has really pushed me and made sure that I am really aware of what’s required.”
Addison’s performance in a midfield alliance forged on short notice with the excellent Bundee Aki was impressive. Three touches in the first 50 seconds of the match captures Addison’s energy, a work-rate he maintained throughout the match.
He glides with the ball in two hands, occupying defenders, and if some of his teammates cut or ran better lines and angles they would profit handsomely. On a couple of occasions Addison made a half-break and looked to the space inside to offload but there were no takers.
He was sharp to a bouncing ball on the Irish line, shot out of the line to make a tap tackle on Nicolas Sanchez as the Argentine outhalf looped around his centres and demonstrated the speed of his hands in setting Jacob Stockdale free.
There were blemishes too; caught by Matias Orlando, the Argentine finding a soft shoulder to break a tackle, and a couple of times Addison’s passing forced the recipient to check their stride. They are minor cavils considering the context.
“I wasn’t totally happy with my performance at times and I wouldn’t look at excuses like that [not having run much in the No 13 role]). I really enjoy 13 and it’s probably where I prefer playing. I have got to be adept at both positions [centre and fullback] and I feel that I have taken a step but I have got a lot to improve on,” he said.
“There is a little bit defensively that I am not happy with. I really need to work closely with Faz (Andy Farrell) on it because he is thereabouts the best defensive coach in the world. I am very fortunate to have that resource available to me.
He paid tribute to Aki and the rest of the backs who have been supportive and encouraging, adding: “One of the things that I have learned is that I can take less on myself because I have got 14 great players around me”.
Having survived the rigours of the match in exemplary fashion he failed to emerge unscathed from a phone conversation with his mum.
“I was pretty much just in tears to my mum just there. They sadly couldn’t come over this time with it being a spur-of-the-moment selection.
“I’m lucky that I had my girlfriend here, which was great, but I have been on the phone to the parents and the family and I was full of emotion. That surprise selection luckily kind of took out that emotion and let me concentrate on the task. Certainly, after the game, it filled me with absolute pride.
“The best team in the world [New Zealand] are coming to town. Everybody will be putting up their hand in training and that’s going to be pretty tasty.”
While he’d love to be front and centre again next Saturday, he may have to bide his time, albeit aware that even at short notice literally and figuratively in terms of his career, Addison has already made quite an impression.