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'He's ticked all his boxes': Will Addison set to make Ulster return while Angus Curtis fit to face Connacht in Rainbow Cup

Soper pleased to see Addison and Curtis back in contention


Will Addison

Will Addison

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Fighting fit: A knee injury has kept Angus Curtis sidelined since late 2019

Fighting fit: A knee injury has kept Angus Curtis sidelined since late 2019

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan


Will Addison

Ulster skills coach Dan Soper believes Will Addison and Angus Curtis returning from injury will be akin to "signing two new players."

Curtis has been out since sustaining a severe knee injury just before Christmas of 2019, while calf and back issues have kept Addison sidelined since January of 2020.

The former has, however, been declared fit for a return in the Rainbow Cup opener at home to Connacht on Friday night, while Addison isn't expected to be too far behind him having already re-joined team training in recent weeks.

With taking charge of the squad's rehab group sessions forming a part of his coaching remit, Soper is only too happy to be seeing less of the pair after such long battles working towards fitness.

"It's always nice to see guys move back into full training and away from the rehab group," he said. "When it comes to Gus and Will, for us it's almost like signing two new players.

"To have two players of their quality coming into the group, it's fantastic.

"Will is a very experienced player, he's a very strong voice in the group. Drawing on that wealth of experience and nous that he has will be hugely important and a great benefit to us.

"We're really looking forward to seeing Will when the time is right. He's ticked all his boxes, he's getting back out there and he's adding to the team.

"(Curtis) is so versatile. He can play in a range of positions, he's a lovely passer of the ball. He passes the ball as well as anyone.

"That adds a nice dimension to the attack. It brings an added quality to training. The more good players we have training, the higher the standard of training and that brings the best out of everyone.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing him out there and it's such a reward at the end of 16 months or whatever it's been."

Sadly, while two long-term members leave the daily grind of the rehab group, a lengthy journey back to first-team action is only beginning for another.

Cormac Izuchukwu was one of the bright spots of Ulster's campaign post-Christmas, the former sevens stand-out making an impact with some eye-catching cameos in the second-row.

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It was on one such dynamic carry against Harlequins in the Challenge Cup that the 21-year-old tore his anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that will require surgery next week.

An abrupt end to a promising debut season is all the more frustrating given it will almost certainly keep him out for a part of the next campaign, too.

"It is a challenge," admitted Soper. "What's really important is the players have something that they can really get their teeth into, some area to focus on that they want to improve.

"I just had a chat with Cormac. It's a great shame for him obviously but we sat down and thought 'right, where is there an opportunity for you?'

"There's physical development and there's obviously rehabbing the knee but what can we do rugby-wise? Some of that stuff with Cormac will be around skills, the core-skills that he's going to need, and a lot of it is going to be learning that he can do.

"There's a lot he can learn about line-outs for example, he'll get a role there.

"Angus, he was doing a lot of prep since Christmas, prepping the plays that the opposition are likely to run.

"Some of those times he wasn't training, he'd be standing on the sidelines almost like another coach and it was a chance to get his rugby brain engaged again and get him back in that way.

"It's alongside the core skills but it's really important that players have ownership over what they want to get better at so that when they return they're better at something than they were before they got injured."

For now, Izuchukwu will join fellow long-term absentees Luke Marshall, Sam Carter and Jack McGrath in Soper's rehab group as Ulster prepare to balance the start of the Rainbow Cup with their ambitions in Europe.

Soper, though, does not expect wholesale changes this weekend even with next week's Challenge Cup semi-final away to Leicester looming large.

"We know there's a lot of guys that play their best in a rhythm week to week," he added. "There was a week off last week so the guys have rested up and we'll monitor how the week goes but we'll hope to have a good strong team out."

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