Sale Sharks proudly proclaims itself as the ‘only Premiership Rugby Union club in the North West’. We like plain talking up here. For all Sale Sharks premiership status they remain a well grounded and family friendly club and nothing illustrates that more then the access given by them to #RugbyUnited.
I’d arranged a while ago with Dave, who runs their Media team to attend Carrington (their training ground) when the #RugbyUnited Sale Sharks player of the season was voted for on Twitter so up I pitched. I’m always early so I checked Twitter for any last minute questions for Will and found to my horror that Alastair Eykyn and the BT Sport Rugby crew were here and also interviewing Will Addison. It was with some trepidation that I rang the bell but whilst Dave and Stephen conceded it was busy, nothing was too much trouble and Will and I settled down for a chat.
We started by discussing RugbyUnited and the realisation that younger players still have to get used to the fact that they’ve become role models. Will was genuinely shocked that he’s been voted player of the season and even more delighted when he found out that he’s beaten Mike Haley and Tommy Taylor to second and third place respectively. More of that later! When I told him at the end of the interview that my 14 year old son and Sale Sharks Academy player thought he was ‘awesome’ he appeared genuinely humbled.
Will had first appeared in the side as Centre but spent most of this season on the wing (right by us in the East Stand) as well as occasional moves to fullback so I asked him his preference. He was very clear on the Centre position and is hoping with the re-shaping of the team next season to return to that position, occupying the spaces that he sees Sam James increasingly creating as Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota provide support as they make similar levels of appearances as this season.
Will is excited by the changing team and looking forward to seeing how the squad will shape up after the break. The player he’s most looking forward to playing alongside is Josh Charnley and he believes he’ll fit well into the team and provide some exciting rugby next season. He didn’t see the code change as a problem and revealed he was already mates with Josh before the announcement and that they’ve chatted since. I asked him about the ‘swagger’ tag that had been attached to Josh and he found that funny and said simply that Josh has no ego at all. He doesn’t know any of the others, although readily admitted having watched them since on YouTube. I went for it and asked who Will thought would be the first choice Number 10 next season and he wasn’t going to venture an opinion.
That did bring us on neatly to the player Will was most unhappy to see go. He replied straight away that it was Tommy Taylor, who he described as his best mate and a great pal, with whom he shares a house (more later). Will gave great credit to Tommy for his performances this season and said he was a great example to all young players with his focus and determination. He obviously sees Tommy as an England player (as do all Sale Sharks fans) and it was clear that Tommy’s decision to move had been well thought out with his career in mind. I forbore to point out that we had beaten Bath this season! However whilst Will will clearly miss his mate he went out to talk about the impact that Danny Cipriani has had this season. He talked about how Danny creates the space for the moves from the back and felt that he had been a clearly inspirational influence on them all. He was baffled by his continuing omission from the England side.
It’s very clear from my visits to Carrington that Sale Sharks are a close knit team with great respect and camaraderie for each other, as well as a fair bit of banter. Dimes is an accomplished manager with less money than other teams and a great talent for bringing youngsters on whilst getting the very best of players moving to the end of their career. To that end I checked with Will, ‘top 6 or top 4’ and he was straight there with ‘top 6 this season’ It is a mantra with the Sale players and they are very focused on that Top 6. Bodes well as Dimes aim for next season is a clear top 4.
You can’t discuss Sale Sharks premiership position without moving onto home v away form. A bastion at the AJ Bell Stadium but a nightmare away, with Will particularly disappointed with defeats at Gloucester and Harlequins. It’s clear the players are as baffled as the fans (although I have a theory I didn’t share with Will) although Will was annoyed that the traditional ‘go-in hard’ for the first 20 minutes of each match had failed to materialise at Bath away last weekend. He gave great credit to the players coming into the game off the bench and the lecture given them by Dimes at half-time! None of which could be repeated here.
Camaraderie at Sale Sharks being what it is Will shares a house with Mike Haley, Tommy Taylor and Josh Beaumont and I am sworn to secrecy at the stories he shared. I took the chance to ask him about Josh and we agreed the voting could have been very different if he hadn’t sustained that injury earlier in the season. Josh is recovering well and Will talked about how impressed he was at Josh’s mental toughness and determination to be ready for the start of next season. Alongside Tommy Will sees him as a clear England selection next season. I asked Will about his own England chances (surely!!!) and in his genuinely modest way he said he was just happy to be playing for Sale Sharks, although he did confess to some chats with his father about it.
Will comes from farming stock and is clearly close to his roots, with his parents both coming from generations of farmers. He gained his degree in Business Studies at Manchester University but freely admits he has no idea what he’ll do after he finishes
playing. The lad has his head screwed on and is already undertaking bouts of work experience alongside his playing to help him focus on where his aspirations may lie. Returning to farming is still a possibility. Whilst I mentioned that many of the Sale Sharks lads came from a farming background he agreed and said that farming was a hard life so it gave you the determination to succeed.
I asked about his personal fitness and having been plagued with injuries over the last few seasons had anything changed this year. Initially Will laughed and clearly felt the injuries had just been bad luck the last few years. However on reflection he conceded that he felt he had a much better idea of what he, personally needed as a player as did the physios and conditioning staff. There is clear focus on each player and supporting them on an individual level. Moving on from that I asked about the impact Paul Deacon had had on the team and Will was quick to praise. I’d originally asked about impact on the backs and whilst Will acknowledged that he felt the biggest work had been with the forwards and the way they now drive on creating space for the backs. There’s clearly a plan within Sale Sharks and it will be interesting to see how it continues to play. Statistically it’s been very successful.
I asked Will for his prediction Saracens v Racing92 and he went for Sarries straight away. Heart or head and he was firm it was both and gave a lot of credit to the Sarries style of play. Almost finally - contract position and could he follow his great mate Tommy Taylor down the M6. Well factually another year in contract and he hoping for an extension during next season, which is great news. I handed over the dossier of 6 files on why a move down South would be a bad idea! Interestingly he revealed that both Mike Haley and Josh Beaumont have plans to buy houses in the area over the Summer, which has to be a good sign for Sale.
Finally as the mother of a wannabe I asked him for his tips for young players. Play as much sport as you can and enjoy – he revealed off an impressive list. However determination and keeping on was the key factor he felt and cited the many Sale Sharks players who didn’t come through Academy routes and certainly didn’t play U 20s for a national side. Nev Edwards had to come up at this stage and Will spoke about how he was a clear example for everyone to just never give up.
I got the feeling that whilst Will Addison is a charming, polite young man who is a credit to his club (and parents) there’s a fair amount of quiet determination there and I’m confident an England call up beckons. We made a date to chat (briefly) after the game on Friday and I like there’s a lot more to come from our #RugbyUnited Sale Sharks player of the season.