Last season might have been his breakthrough campaign, but Josh Adams shows no signs of complacency as he gears up for a potentially career-defining year for both club and country.
Buoyed by his first international try, scored as Wales secured a 2-0 Test series win against Argentina in Santa Fe, and re-energised by a five-week break that included a well-earned trip to Mexico, the Worcester Warriors wing returned to pre-season four weeks ago determined to prove last season was no one-off.
Should Adams, the 2017-18 Gallagher Premiership’s joint top try-scorer, enjoy an equally prolific campaign this time around then a place in Warren Gatland’s Wales squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup would be well within reach. But securing a place on the flight to Japan is not the 23-year-old’s sole focus.
Adams has entered the final year of his contract at Sixways, and with his fledgeling international career just six months and four caps old he must return to Wales from next season if he is to remain eligible for Test selection.
Despite reported interest from the Dragons, the former Scarlets academy player insists there have been “absolutely no discussions” with any of the four Welsh regions yet.
“Obviously, everyone is aware of the rule,” he tells RugbyPass. “It is what it is, I’m just fully concentrating on starting the season as best as I can for Worcester.
“I’m going to have to cross that bridge when it comes to it and it’s going to be a difficult decision.”
To many outsiders, it might seem like a pretty simple choice. Test rugby is the pinnacle of the sport and it would seem like an act of near-heresy to turn your back on the chance to represent your country, were the opportunity available.
Yet, that does not take into account the bond between Adams and Worcester. It was the Warriors who offered him the chance to pursue a career in professional rugby when the Scarlets did not, and he has put himself in this position by performing on the platform they provided.
Moreover, Adams has progressed into the first team alongside fellow academy graduates Jack Singleton, Jamie Shillcock and Perry Humphreys. The lure of playing in the same Wales back-three as school-friend Steff Evans is a strong one, but beyond this season it will come at the expense of running out every weekend with some of his closest mates.
“Worcester took a chance, saw something in me and obviously brought me over the bridge and I’m super, super thankful for that because without Worcester just seeing that little something or giving me that opportunity who knows what I’d be doing right now? I couldn’t tell you,” Adams explains.
“So, it is difficult. I’ve made some terrific friends here and I can easily say they’ll be close friends for life now.
“It’s been pretty cool because when I joined the academy there was a group of us who came through together. Singo (Singleton) now has broken into the England set-up and he’s doing terrifically well and we’re playing regular, Shilly (Shillcock) is playing regularly in the Premiership, Pezzer (Humphreys) is doing the same and then you start to see people like Kitch (Andrew Kitchener) breaking through now, Ted Hill again will come through.
“It’s like that first group of lads that I got to know and sort of live with, when I first moved here, we’ve all come through together and we’re all still playing together.
“So, I think that would be a difficult thing, not to be able to run out with them because we have got quite a close bond.”
Adams’ teammates in Worcester understand how tough the next few months will be for the wing. “Whatever Josh decides it has no impact on how we regard him as a man, as a player, it’s not a personal thing,” Warriors stalwart Chris Pennell told RugbyPass.
“So, I don’t envy the decision he has to make but what a great position to be in.”
It is possibly not a scenario Adams would have envisaged being in when Sam Vesty convinced the Warriors hierarchy to hand him an academy place as the Scarlets were preparing to let him go three years ago.
A spate of injuries at the start of 2018 opened up a space in the Wales back-three, and his form at Worcester – he has scored 30 tries in 48 first-team appearances for the Warriors – elevated him into Gatland’s starting XV for the opening two matches of the Six Nations.
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Adams lined up against Scotland and England on the opposite wing to his friend and former centre partner at Ysgol Gyfun y Strade in Llanelli, Steff Evans.
“I would never have said we’d both start for Wales together on the wings,” Adams says. “Growing up, playing school rugby together I was a centre, maybe on the wing and Steff was a centre or full-back.
“He obviously transitioned very well in the Scarlets and he made his breakthrough on the wing, and he’s done terrifically well since. So, to obviously start together, schoolmates if you like, on the wings was actually pretty cool and a special day for us.”
It was an injury to Evans that handed Adams his chance in Argentina, after the Worcester man had been withdrawn from the original squad once Premiership Rugby Limited refused to release English-based players for the opening game of the tour against South Africa in Washington DC.
Adams found out about his axing as he scrolled through social media at the Premiership Rugby Awards, where he picked up a gong for finishing atop the league’s try-scoring charts. He understood the reasons behind the decision.
“I had to listen to the politics above me and there was nothing I could do, but I was very grateful to get the opportunity to go then to Argentina,” he says. “I sort of slotted in seamlessly if you like, it wasn’t long after the Six Nations so the plays and stuff were quite fresh in my memory, it was just a matter of going over them again and I absolutely loved the two weeks I was out there.
“I was actually really grateful to be given the opportunity to start in both Tests, and happy to get a try in the last one as well.”
His experience in Argentina could prove to be an important one for both Adams and Wales. “It was one of those things that once you get into it and get that belief in yourself that you can actually play and compete at that level it’s sort of just like playing Prem again,” he says.
“But it did take me one or two games for me to feel that, and those were the two games in the Six Nations. I did feel a more confident in myself and a lot more comfortable in the environment in Argentina.”
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