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Racing's indoor arena will suit Ulster's 'fast and loose' style, insists Addison

 

By Michael Sadlier

Another insight into his game was offered up last Saturday evening, just to remind us that the new arrival possesses a pretty decent armoury to call upon.

The quick feet and eye for a gap had already been easily spotted before Will Addison played what was only his third game for Ulster when Leicester Tigers were seen off, but then he showed that strength is also part of the package as he determinedly drove through several tacklers to nail the province's second try on that rain-sodden night.

At least Addison and his team-mates will not have to concern themselves with the weather reports from Paris as Racing 92's cutting-edge La Defense Arena is a roofed stadium with an artificial playing surface, and you get the sense that the anticipated fast-paced game will actually suit Ulster's approach under Dan McFarland.

Indeed, going toe-to-toe with Racing's desire to bring Simon Zebo's unorthodox running lines into play is a slightly different consideration than the usual chief concern about purely being steam-rolled up front when visiting Top 14 clubs.

And though Pool Four leaders Ulster are by no means foolish enough to be talking up their chances of getting a surprise second Heineken Champions Cup win - and vital away result - there is a discernible feel that they can compete with the Parisians if it becomes fast and loose.

After all, even though Racing made it all the way to last season's final, where Leinster turned them over, and are fancied to win the pool prior to making decent strides through the knockout stages again, they are currently mid-table in the Top 14 and have already been beaten twice at home this season.

Add to that the fact they just about escaped the Scarlets last weekend with an opening victory and it's not unreasonable to assume that the Parisian club are not firing on all cylinders.

Still, it's difficult to dodge Ulster's uncomfortable hammering at Munster and then home defeat to Connacht, never mind what Racing might unleash if McFarland's men make another slow start.

But, even so, Addison reckons the way last weekend's victory was ground out over the Tigers - he particularly enjoyed the experience having had little joy against them while with Sale Sharks - indicates that the province are back on track and heading in the right direction again.

"It's really nice having a vision of where we want to go," says the Cumbrian native whose mother hails from Fermanagh.

"We've got this mentality to play with real speed and that's where we want to go and every week there have been improvements.

"I think last weekend we had 37 minutes of ball in play and that was a real step-up compared to what Leicester are used to," added the 26-year-old, who returned from injury and illness to play centre in the European opener after two outings at full-back at the start of the PRO14 programme.

As for the unfamiliarity of playing indoors combined with an artificial surface, the former Sale Shark isn't for shying away from the challenge.

"That'll be something new," he states of Racing's dazzling arena. "But the way we like to play is fast and loose and that will suit us, being indoors with a dry ball.

"I've never played indoors before but as for artificial surfaces, in the Premiership we had three artificial pitches up at Newcastle, Worcester and Saracens, so I've got a good bit of experience on them and the guys here would have played at Glasgow (and Cardiff) as well."

But while Ulster's attack may be in reasonably rude health, their defence, now overseen by Jared Payne, will be thoroughly tested by Racing's ambitious plays and, though the province only coughed up one late try to the Tigers, the previous three encounters with the Cheetahs, Munster and Connacht were not pretty in that regard.

Addison is only too aware of how teams can be given a shoeing over in France if they fail to function early on and has played there in both the Champions and Challenge Cup.

But, along the way, Addison has acquired valuable knowledge of what it takes to win there too.

"It (playing in France) can be a really tough place to go depending on how you start the game. And that's an area we're really targeting," he says, which is a fair point as Ulster have been notably slow at getting out of the blocks this season.

"If you can manage to silence the crowd over in France it can really help you out, but if they're on your back it can be really tough."

Perhaps not surprisingly the extended clan will be in Paris to see the farmer's son do his stuff which will be an added confidence boost for Addison who only joined the province last summer.

"I always look forward to the French trips and it was straight on my family's calendar as soon as it came up that we were in Paris," he points out.

"They're making the trip over from both here and over in England," adds the man who spent many childhood summers in Fermanagh.

He moved here in an attempt to play regularly at Europe's top table - Sale have been in and out of the main event - and to explore the possibility of togging out for Ireland.

"It (playing in the Champions Cup) was one of the main reasons for me coming here," he admits, "and to have that opportunity almost year in, year out in the Champions Cup."

Ireland considerations are brushed off - though he might well yet feature in one of the four internationals being played next month - with a typically good-humoured shrug.

"I've got to play a good bit more," says Addison, before delivering the standard issue answer, "and my focus is on playing well this weekend."

A crippling combination of illness and back issues sidelined him for last month's two-game trip to South Africa and then there was no sign of him for the Munster and Connacht defeats.

"I don't think I'll be going back to South Africa in a hurry," is his retort to having sat out four of Ulster's last five games.

But now, he seems to be fighting fit and ready to taste his first European away experience since becoming an Ulster player.

Addison admits that - if picked, which seems likely - keeping Cork man Zebo quiet will be a key factor.

"He's an incredibly instinctive and talented player," says Addison of Racing's in-form signing.

"He's been immense in their first few games in the Top 14 and he's definitely a danger man and we'll be looking out for him."

But this is also about Ulster putting down their own marker.

"As a team we want to create something special this year," he says.

"As individuals, we know where we want to go and I feel that every week I can hit certain benchmarks."

An unlikely triumph in Paris would be some mark to hit.

Racing 92 vs Ulster

Champions Cup Pool Four

La Defense Arena, Tomorrow, 5.30pm

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