Monday 16 September 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Schmidt might have missed trick by not including Addison'

Versatile Ulster back Will Addison was left out of Ireland’s World Cup squad. Photo: Sportsfile
Versatile Ulster back Will Addison was left out of Ireland’s World Cup squad. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Of all the players who were in with a realistic chance of making Ireland's World Cup squad, Will Addison had comfortably played the least amount of minutes in 2019.

Back when he has at the peak of his powers with Ulster at the turn of the year, Addison was a strong contender to make many people's predicted squads, yet a serious back injury ended his season as early as January and with it seemingly went his hopes of making the plane to Japan.

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When you hear the words 'back' and 'injury', it usually spells bad news. Add in 'surgery' and the scenario becomes even more complicated.

Since suffering the initial setback in Ireland training, the IRFU and Ulster kept their cards close to their chest in terms of putting a time-frame on Addison's expected recovery time.

The line trotted out was that he hoped to be back for pre-season, with the emphasis on the word 'hoped'.

The 27-year suddenly disappeared off the radar and when he was left out of Ireland's initial World Cup training squad, he was up against it.

That shouldn't really have come as much of a surprise as Addison had only played 160 minutes of rugby this year before he made a most welcome return in Cardiff last Saturday.

Having begun his pre-season with Ulster, it became apparent that he was on track for an early return, which in turn saw Schmidt waste no time in picking up the phone to an ultra-versatile player, who offers a lot.

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As soon as he linked up with the Ireland squad and after overcoming a niggling calf issue, word has it that he has been training the house down and clocked some seriously impressive running speeds. Not bad for a man who only recently underwent back surgery, eh? That's the thing about Addison - he is deceptively quick as well being extremely skilful.

Against Wales, he brought a sense of calm to the back-field, while at the same time, added a much-needed fresh dynamic to Ireland's attack.

It was a performance that wasn't without its mistakes, however. But Schmidt won't have been expecting perfection from a man who was only playing his third game in 2019.

As it was, it appears to have come down to a straight shoot-out between Addison and Chris Farrell, who is an out-and-out centre. The latter ended up winning the race, despite the Ulster player's ability to play almost every position in the back-line. During his time with Sale Sharks, where, it is worth remembering, he captained the club, Addison got game-time everywhere bar scrum-half.

The English-born back could, who qualifies for Ireland via his Fermanagh-born mother, hardly be better suited to a World Cup where depth will be tested. Finding a spot in the squad was no easy task, however. Farrell will be breathing a sigh of relief as he will feel that he missed a chance to restate his claim in Wales.

It's clear that Schmidt now favours a power game to counteract what lies ahead in Japan and Farrell suits that.

In terms of leaving out a back-three option, Schmidt has invested hugely in Jordan Larmour and he was always likely to make the cut. Andrew Conway's form clouded the picture and along with his Munster team-mate Farrell, he helped force Addison out.

Last Friday in Cardiff, Addison, along with out-half Jack Carty, were brought to the Principality Stadium for kicking practice, which is another useful string to his bow.

Ronan O'Gara recently made a very interesting point about World Cup squads and the importance of the players from 23 to 31 - in other words, the ones who miss out on the match squad and maintain standards.

Addison will feel that he could have added as well as anyone in that sense, and having played a key role in getting him to move to Ireland last year, there may be a nagging doubt in the back of Schmidt's mind.

Ultimately, Addison's comeback was too late for the Ireland head coach, who already has concerns over a couple of backs who are not yet fully fit. Taking a risk on another was clearly one that he felt was not worth it.

Schmidt must now hope that he hasn't missed a trick by overlooking someone as versatile and dependable as Addison.

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