Ulster’s Will Addison has no regrets over playing through the pain barrier to help his province through to the now postponed Champions Cup quarter-finals.
The Irish international back was carrying a calf problem into the side’s crunch clash with Bath back in January, ultimately exacerbating the issue as he helped Dan McFarland’s men into the last eight with victory in Belfast.
With rugby on hold at Kingspan Stadium since the end of February, it remains the last time Addison saw the field having spent the first rounds of the Six Nations with Ireland but unable to play thanks to the injury.
Given the stakes for Ulster on the day though, he says he would do the same again.
“It was over in Clermont (a week before) when I picked up the injury and (found out I) had the tear in the calf,” he recalled.
“But obviously the next weekend being what it was with the home game against Bath and qualifying for the quarter-finals, I felt I had to put myself in the frame for that and I am really happy I did.
“Unfortunately I exacerbated the injury during that game and that meant it was a longer rehab process for me which impacted my involvement in the Six Nations.
“It was a really tough decision when you are involved in a knock-out fixture in Europe as we were against Bath.
“It is one of those things that happens in your career, sometimes you come to a crossroads, but I am glad that we did it and then we made it through to that quarter-final.”
While Ulster are now expected to return to action behind closed doors in an August interpro series pencilled in for the Aviva Stadium, there remains no date in place for that quarter-final.
When rugby does resume, Addison is relishing the prospect of checking in at full fitness after an injury-plagued run.
Having displayed quality in swathes since arriving in Belfast in 2018, a persistent back problem ended his debut campaign in January and derailed his bid to make Ireland’s World Cup squad for Japan having made his debut in green the previous November.
While he got back in time to feature in the warm-ups, he carried knocks and niggles through the early weeks of this campaign long before being struck down with the calf but, with the benefit of few weeks of 5.30am alarm calls on his family’s dairy farm in Cumbria, now feels fresh and raring to go once again.
“I am well over the calf injury, that healed as we pretty much went into lockdown,” said the man who recently penned a two-year extension with the club.
“Like all rugby players, there were quite a few little knocks and niggles here and there but that was the main one for me.
“With the back injury and because I came back so quickly from the Rugby World Cup pre-season, I probably didn’t pay it as much attention, and you have to manage those injuries.
“It has been a really good opportunity for me to really reset and try and do a really good job of rehabbing that and rehabbing my lower leg strength that you kind of neglect when you get into the run of things during a rugby season.
“I am fully fit and am lucky to have had this opportunity to go after the little details.
“It is a good point to have some self reflection and really push yourself individually. That has been a challenge, to work on your own without your teammates around you, but I think, like with any setback you have, you accept that whether you are a rugby player or in your normal life you have to use it as an opportunity.
“I think there are challenges, getting time on your own and not being able to do what you want and what you love is tough, but you have to find the positive in it and it still has been a brilliant opportunity at the same time. If you can push through it and improve during this time, it is going to be huge benefit to us in the long run.”
Following what is expected to be a pair of interpros in late summer, the PRO14 would then launch straight into the play-offs before a brief pause and the beginning of the 2020/21 campaign in October. Whatever the format used to decide the 2020 champion, Ulster are almost assured of being involved in the altered endgame having been sat second in their conference when the league was halted indefinitely back in March, seven points clear of Glasgow in what would have traditionally been the final play-off spot and nine ahead of the Cheetahs in fourth.
While Leinster have been runaway leaders all year, the unprecedented nature of this campaign surely increases the chance of a surprise or two along the way.
And while this week marked the 14th anniversary of Ulster last getting their hands on silverware of any kind, Addison wants to see the squad “go after something great” in the delayed finish to this now mammoth season.
“When we get back the challenge for us is hopefully to start right back where we left off,” said the man who’ll turn 28 just two days before the projected return to play date.
“We were in a brilliant part of the season where we were challenging for Heineken Cup honours as well as PRO14 and if we can challenge ourselves as a player group to really hit the ground running that would be a feather in our cap. I think that would be our challenge at the moment. Bring on our learning on our own to make sure we are really ready as individuals and then come together and go after something great.”