|Six Nations 2019: Wales v Ireland|
|Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday 31 August Kick-off: 14:30 GMT|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster MW and the BBC Sport website|
Seven years ago Will Addison was part of an England squad that swept to the Under-20 Six Nations Championship.
The former Sale Sharks back started the final-round win over Ireland as England took the title ahead of France and Ireland on points difference.
Peers such as George Ford, Elliot Daly and Kyle Sinckler have now become mainstays in Eddie Jones’ squad but Addison will try to force his way into Ireland’s World Cup squad with an eye-catching display against Wales on Saturday.
The versatile playmaker now has a chance to prove that England’s loss has been Ireland’s gain when he starts Saturday’s World Cup warm-up game against Wales in Cardiff.
“Will is an incredibly classy player,” enthuses his Ireland team-mate Jacob Stockdale, who has watched Addison at close quarters since his move to Ulster last summer.
“He can easily play 13, 15 and wing, he’s really skilful and he’s got an incredible Rugby brain so he hasn’t had any problems sliding in pretty seamlessly into the set-up.
“He’s been class for us at Ulster so for him to come down into Ireland camp, yeah there were a few days when he was a bit nervy and I had to put the arm around him, the old experienced player! Will’s been class and he’s done very well.”
Having made his debut as a substitute in Ireland’s against Italy in November, Addison then started the subsequent autumn Tests against Argentina and USA as he was fast-tracked into the Irish set-up before injury abruptly ended his season in January.
It is testament to the regard in which Schmidt holds Addison that despite a seven month lay-off, he remains in contention for a seat on the plane to Japan.
It started with a text message out of the blue
Addison and some team-mates were on a night out in his hometown of Penrith when his phone lit up with a message from an unknown number claiming to be from Schmidt.
The Ireland head coach had been monitoring Addison’s progress through the ranks at Sale after becoming aware that his mother, Caroline, grew up in County Fermanagh and that she had brought Will back to visit her family every summer.
Schmidt stayed in touch, even after Addison turned down an approach to join Munster in favour of remaining at Sharks, offering advice and pointers on how he might improve his game.
But Sale was his club and his loyalty was rewarded when he was made captain by director of Rugby Steve Diamond after graduating from the Sale Jets academy.
Former England A international Pete Anglesea can still remember the day he first saw a 14-year-old Addison at a Rugby camp in Barnard Castle School in Durham.
“I’d just retired from playing for the first team and I joined the academy staff and Will had been spotted at this Rugby camp,” Anglesea recollects.
“One of our coaches phoned me and asked me to drive up there to do some coaching. It’s a couple of hours up the road but he said ‘there’s a lad there that I’d really like you to have a look at and see what you think’ and that was Will.
“I drove up the following morning and it was sort of immediate, within 10 minutes you could see how he was very much a younger, rawer version of what he is today but you could already see the huge talent that he had.”
Brave and skilful with the heart of a lion
Although he had never spoken to Addison about his Irish heritage, Anglesea is not surprised to see how quickly his former pupil has risen through the ranks at Ulster and Ireland.
The 26-year-old even trained with the Irish squad before his arrival at Ulster – arranging his holiday in Australia to coincide with Ireland’s 2018 tour Down Under.
“He was one of those lads who just had that natural raw talent, he was one of those people who was good at all sports, I remember a few times seeing him play football or Cricket and he just excelled,” said Anglesea, who is now a first team coach at Sale.
“It was strange for me to see him playing with Ulster for the first time where he was getting hold of the ball and he’s still exciting. He’s one of those players who gets the crowd on their toes.
“As a Rugby player, he’s brave with good skills and the heart of a lion.
“I’ve seen him do fitness sessions where he’s nearly collapsing because he puts his body under that much strain but he just never gives in.”
BOD was his hero but a Welshman sold him on Belfast
Addison, who idolised Brian O’Driscoll when he was growing up in the Lake District, was always proud of his Irish roots and when a call came from his former Sale team-mate Dwayne Peel two seasons ago, he knew he had to make a decision on his future.
Peel, who is the Ulster attack coach, floated the idea of moving to Belfast and forcing his way into the Ireland set-up in time for the World Cup.
It was a winning sales pitch by the ex-Wales international.
“When his name came up, Dwayne spoke very highly about Will, his attributes and how he would fit well with the style of Rugby the coaches were looking to implement,” recalls Ulster operations director Bryn Cunningham.
“We had the luxury of Jared Payne playing at 13 at Ulster for a long period, he was probably one of the best Ulster players of the modern era, and Will has a lot of similar traits in the way that he runs, the lines that he picks, the body swerve he’s got and that little injection of pace that helps him to get away from players when it looks like he shouldn’t.
“Then there was the added bonus – again like Jared – of the flexibility of where he can play.
“In the modern game, when you have a certain amount of bodies in your squad… you want to have guys who are multi-positional, which is a great asset to have and Will certainly fits that down to a T.”
No bitterness and no regrets
Given how quickly he has become a part of the Ireland squad, it would be tempting to suggest that England missed a trick by not offering Addison a cap while he was consistently performing at Sale.
“I have always thought he was good enough for international Rugby,” admits Anglesea, who continues to track Addison’s development.
Instead, Ireland have been able to call upon a player who is equally comfortable at wing, centre or full-back.
In his discussions with Addison before he signed for Ulster, Cunningham says there was never any hint of rancour over his lack of international progress: “There was no bitterness from Will about not getting a look-in with England or feeling that his time was up and it hadn’t happened for him.
“I think, for a lot of players, sometimes a moment comes in their career where it’s the right thing to do and maybe moving to Ulster was just the right timing for Will, for Ulster and ultimately for Ireland.
“I’m not sure anybody would have expected him to make such an immediate impression that he would get into the Ireland squad straight away but I think that’s testament to how quickly he hit the ground running with us.”