Will Addison discovered roughly 20 minutes before kick-off on Saturday that he would be starting Ireland’s GUINNESS Series opener against Argentina at a packed-out Aviva Stadium.
A hamstring injury sustained during the warm-up saw Robbie Henshaw pulled from the Ireland starting XV and consequently handed Will Addison, one of Ulster’s summer signings, the number 13 jersey and his home debut – just a week on from winning his first cap as a second half replacement against Italy.
For someone who was only expected to be the 24th man for the game, it was a huge moment for Addison who recalled: “I think it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, so I wouldn’t remember the exact minutes. It was probably about 20 minutes before and then went full after a warm-up phase, which was really good for me. Gave me a good bedding into the game. Probably about 20 minutes before kick-off.
“I think coming in as 24th man this weekend, I saw it as a real positive. That I could experience the environment here at the Aviva for the Captain’s Run and also on game day. That was always going to be a boost to me and then coming into the starting line-up late on was a real boost again. That really threw me in at the deep end, but absolutely loved it.”
A former England Under-20 international, Addison qualifies for Ireland through his Fermanagh-born mother. The circumstances of his selection meant his family were not present at the stadium, but an emotional phone call managed to bring home the significance of his full debut in the green shirt.
“I was pretty much in tears on the phone to my mum just then! They sadly couldn’t come over this time, with it being a spur of the moment selection. Luckily I had my girlfriend Emma here, which was great.
“Being on the phone to my parents and the family just then, I was full of emotion. Luckily that surprise selection took out that emotion a little bit and let me focus on my task. Certainly after the game, it filled me with absolute pride.”
The versatile 26-year-old back had been earmarked for a spot in the Ireland squad for quite a while. Long before his impressive initial performances for his new side Ulster – mostly at full-back – he spent time within the Ireland set-up.
A spell in Australia during Ireland’s successful summer tour proved to be especially beneficial in advance of his debut off the bench against Conor O’Shea’s Italy in Chicago. Addison agreed: “The last few months have really helped. Having a few days in camp in Australia gave me a taste of the environment.
“Then had a weekend (camp) in August and then the last week has been great. Being away in Chicago with the group has really pushed me and made sure I’m really aware of what’s required. I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks.”
Although lining out in a different position to provincial level might have been seen as an inconvenience, outside centre is where Addison is most comfortable. While he was generally satisfied with the way he performed, there were aspects of his game that left him frustrated.
“I think there was a little bit defensively that I’m not happy with. I love defending, it’s one of my really favourite parts of the game. Set piece-wise, you come up against a new challenge in international rugby. It’s probably one of those things that have really taken me back.
“The challenge at set piece and during phase play, it really takes you on defensively and it’s something I really need to work closely with Faz (Andy Farrell) about. Because he’s pretty much there or thereabouts the best defensive coach in the world. I’m very fortunate to have that resource available to me.”
Addison arrived at Kingspan Stadium following an eight-year stint with Sale Sharks. Moving on was a difficult decision for the University of Manchester graduate to make, but one he is currently reaping the benefits of.
“It was a real tough decision. A great club and I’m definitely a fan from afar of what Sale do. This was definitely part of the plan. I think first and foremost was to really enjoy what’s going on at Ulster at the moment. I think we’ve got a real club and really good youngsters coming through.
“I really see some great success we’re going to have at Ulster in a few years’ time. Maybe even this year. That was kind of the first hurdle, but international rugby was definitely a target for me. It has definitely proved a fruitful move.”
With Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose expected to be available for next Saturday’s clash with New Zealand, the visit of the United States on Saturday, November 24 may be the most realistic target for Addison’s third cap at this level.
That won’t stop him from dreaming of a tilt at the world’s top-ranked team, though. The man who has close family ties to Enniskillen added: “The best team in the world coming to town. I think everyone will be putting up their hand for selection. Training is going to be pretty tasty this coming week. I’ll be very lucky to get selected. If I’m lucky enough to be involved in that 23, then I’m sure the parents will come over!”