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FEATURE Josh Adams: 'The fire has always been in me.'

Josh Adams: 'The fire has always been in me.'
10 months ago

Scroll through the internet when doing your due diligence on Josh Adams, the Cardiff, Wales and Lions wing, and it won’t be long you’ll happen across a You Tube video entitled, ‘Five minutes of Josh Adams getting angry’. It’s pretty popular edit all told and has racked up 34,000 views in little over a year.

At various interludes, Adams is seen having either having argy-bargy or engaging in verbals with James Lowe, Jamie Ritchie, Duane Vermeulen and Luca Bigi. Even though Adams is giving away inches and several kilograms to his fellow protagonists, the message is writ-large, ‘I will not be taking a backward step, and I’m taking no shit’.

When told of this montage of madness from Cardiff fan and popular You Tuber Andrew Forde, Adams, who is snaking his way back to West Wales in readiness for tussle with Benetton and a Challenge Cup semi-final place, chuckles and says he’ll have to dig it out for a gander.

After a few seconds of reflection, Adams, admits that beyond the laughs, he has indeed let his frustration get the better of him at times. However with age – he turns 28 in a matter of weeks – has come a modicum of maturity, for the father of one, and soon to be two, with his wife Georgia due to give birth in the summer.

In his defence, Adams cites last week’s game against Sale, where he notched a brace of tries, as a sign of his more mellow side. “I had the ball, and I think it was Ben Curry who got penalised for tipping me in the tackle. It wasn’t dangerous, but it was above the horizontal. Now in my head, a year or two ago, I know I’d have flipped and gripped him and started a scuffle. I suppose with a cooler head, I thought, ‘we’ve got a penalty, happy days, nothing more needs to be done’.

An affable interviewee, Adams is well-liked off the pitch, but the question needs to be posed whether Adams would be a lesser player without that edge and fighting spirit that turns him into a competitive animal once he crosses the white lines and into a sporting amphitheatre. After all, the likes of Liam Williams, Mike Brown and Peter O’Mahony have made a career of bringing the niggle when the intensity is ratcheted up. “Each player is different but for me, being confrontational and in your face is part of my make-up.”

Josh Adams
Josh Adams is in a rich vein of form, scoring 11 tries in nine appearances for Cardiff (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

After some more introspection, Adams does admit that he has pushed the boundaries. “I have crossed the line. If I’m honest with you, I’m probably lucky that I haven’t had a sending off or a yellow card for a rush of blood to the head. As I’ve got older, I’ve probably realised that losing my head or wasting energy on silly things is not benefitting anybody. Before I thought, I really have to do something to get in the game but I’ve realised if I can channel that frustration or energy in the right way, I can avoid putting myself or my team in any jeopardy or trouble.”

This innate competitive spirit has not been manufactured for the professional era and to understand Adams’ psyche, you’ll have to rewind to his childhood growing up in the small village of Yr Hendy, at the neck of the Loughor river. A small, skinny boy, who was all ‘knees and elbows’, he often had to punch above his weight, quite literally, to stay in the game. “The fire has always been in me. I played a year up because we didn’t have a side in my age group, so I was always playing against boys a year or 18 months older than me. It was a case of, if I don’t go in hard, or really get stuck in, I might get hurt.”

I was very, very close to playing semi-pro and just finding another career. Being told I wasn’t good enough for a contract instilled a work ethic in me.

He has worn the chip on his shoulder as a badge of honour, and it was likely polished when he was rejected by his home region, the Scarlets, and had to head over the border for stints with Cinderford and Nottingham, before the now defunct Worcester Warriors took a punt on him. Scorer of 39 tries in 65 appearances, it earnt him rave reviews and a chauffeur driven ride back over the Bridge to the Arms Park.

Before his talent was recognised, he seriously considered following his dad with a plumbing apprenticeship. So did the rejection fuel him? “I think being let go by the Scarlets formed me in a way. I was very, very close to playing semi-pro and just finding another career. Being told I wasn’t good enough for a contract instilled a work ethic in me. It made me realise I had to graft if I was to get anywhere in this sport.”

Looking back at his naivety as a teenager, Adams doesn’t bear a grudge that he was overlooked. “Truthfully, there were times at the Scarlets Academy, where I just thought it would naturally happen. I thought, ‘I’ll get into the Academy, get a development contract, move into the first team and seamlessly move through the gears’. I was a little wet behind the ears and probably had my priorities wrong. Going to Worcester opened my eyes. I learnt there were no short cuts to success.”

This work ethic, instilled by rejection, has made Adams the player he is and he now says he can hang his hat on the fact no one works harder. “I’ve learnt over the years that one opinion doesn’t define you. One decision doesn’t separate you as a good or a bad player because there will always be another coach who really likes the look of you. Obviously, luck is involved, but things happen for a reason. My advice to players coming through is not to jack it in and hang in there.”

This newfound wisdom has not detracted from his prolific try-scoring ability. Far from it. He has now scored 11 tries in his last nine appearances for Cardiff.

With the sad loss of Peter Thomas, days before the Sale game, Adams says there was no issue hitting the right emotional tone to send England stars Manu Tuilagi, George Ford and Jonny Hill back up the M6, Cup dreams up in flames. “In an ideal world, Peter would have been sitting there in his usual seat, watching on. Nothing made him happier than watching Cardiff play well and winning against a pretty stacked with English internationals and huge South Africans.”

Whether you had a direct relationship with Peter, or you were just a player at the club who had met him a few times, he always showed he cared about you

With considerable change unavoidable at the end of the season, the family-feel given to the club by Thomas’s will be sorely missed and difficult to replace. “Whether you had a direct relationship with Peter, or you were just a player at the club who had met him a few times, he always showed he cared about you. Rugby is a pretty transient sport so for a chairman know your family and background is pretty rare. I’ll miss him around the changing room, chatting to the boys. What stood out above all was his pride for Cardiff.”

Adams felt a white-knuckle victory by a point was within the squad but knows they have to hit the high notes out in Italy, against a side, with a similarities to Leinster, in that the form the bulk of the national side and share a similar attacking blueprint. Test backrow Michele Lamarro, Sebastian Negri and Lorenzo Cannone will keep Cardiff’s trio, James Botham, Taulupe Faletau and Thomas Young busy, while a backline furnished with Wasps duo Jacob Umaga and Marcus Watson will not be underestimated.

At stake is a game against Lyon, or Toulon, where his close friend, Dan Biggar resides. “Benetton have made huge strides in the last 18 months. They beat us 69-21 last season and their team is stacked full of internationals. Connacht are no mugs and they put 40 points on them, so we are not taking the challenge lightly. If we can repeat what we did against Sale, we’ll be right in the mix.”

Josh Adams
Adams is under no illusions that Benetton will provide stiff opposition with a galaxy of Italian stars (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

To attempt understatement, these are trying times in Welsh rugby after a season of acrimony and the look on the faces of the Ospreys players after their battling loss against Saracens told a story. Many of them knew it was the last time they would play together in a game of note and Cardiff too, know their squad will be forced, through economic pressures, to be broken up, with players like Willis Halaholo going public in pointing out a stark situation. It’s a fact not lost on Adams. “We’ve mentioned it more than once how it could be the last time we play together as a group. The large majority of players have been together since I arrived. It’s been the same faces, day-in, day-out, with a few new additions, so there is a real resolve that we give a piece of silverware a good go.”

As one of the squad’s senior players, Adams knows he has to set an example out in Parma, but he pays his due respects to Dai Young and Josh Turnbull, who will set the emotional tone. “Dai sets the standards required for us as a team, which drips down to the on-field coaches, Jockey (Matt Sherratt), Richie (Rees), Duane (Goodfield), TR (Rhys Thomas) and Hodgey (Richard Hodges). Josh (Turnbull) is like an on-field coach, too. He is a leader and a good bloke to go into the trenches with, but I have to say I’m glad he’s got rid of that peroxide blond lid because I’m sure it was some sort of mid-life crisis!’

It’s been very difficult these last few months. There’s no doubt the issues off the field have been a distraction because it’s taken away the focus of the players.

That the conversation has segued from topic to topic without mentioning politics is a sign that Welsh rugby is starting to heal from seismic ructions, but aftershocks are expected. Days ago, Adams, who had been heavily linked with Lyon, pledged his future to his home since 2019.

It has been a period of uncertainty and worry that exploded into a seismic threat by players to down tools and refuse to play England. Adams is sanguine but doesn’t try to sidestep a chastening period in Welsh rugby’s history. “It’s been very difficult these last few months. There’s no doubt the issues off the field have been a distraction because it’s taken away the focus of the players, when they should have been focusing on the game at the weekend. Instead, they have been trying to secure their futures. It is being talked about less now, but it had got to the point where we felt we had to do something before that England game to put across what we wanted as a group. The public showed their support for us but there’s no doubt the uncertainty affected our performances.”

Far from being antagonistic and unreasonable, Adams said it was vital they were able to convey their views at board level. “We had to make a stand so we could put across our views and have a voice at the top table. It should never have taken that long and to be honest, the whole situation has been clean-off. It’s probably not exactly how we envisioned it, but at least where contracts can be signed and funding has been agreed. Having a place on the WRPA board will give us a voice and that’s only right because we are the one’s playing the game. We understand there is negotiation in every industry, but you have to meet somewhere in the middle. At least we’re there now.”

Shaun Edwards, probably the best defence coach in the world, said the hardest place to defend is on the wing, so you can’t just rely on being a finisher and your attacking ability, because you’ll get found out.

As for concentrating on on-field matters, the West Walian is in a rich vein of form. After plundering 83 tries in his 149 professional appearances he has eked out a reputation as one of the game’s best finishers. However, it’s his all-round game, that has seen him on the cusp of his Test half-century, with his aerial and defensive work valued by the Wales management. “At the top end of Test rugby, we have a massive emphasis on the aerial game. Shaun Edwards, probably the best defence coach in the world, said the hardest place to defend is on the wing, so you can’t just rely on being a finisher and your attacking ability, because you’ll get found out.”

While Cardiff still have the opportunity to finish as the top Welsh region in the United Rugby Championship and are capable of lifting silverware, no Welsh fan needs to be reminded that we are only five months from a Rugby World Cup.

Josh Adams
In a matter of months, Adams is likely to be heading to France for the World Cup with Wales (Photo credit WILLIAM WEST/Getty Images)

In 2019, Wales went into the tournament as the No 1 ranked side, but currently they are the world No 10, with some catching up to do, after finishing fifth in the Six Nations. Warren Gatland has been bullish and has already said Wales will surprise a few sides, and Adams, who is fully expected to be in the 33-man squad, concurs. ‘The longer we are together, the better we are. I know most teams will say that, but nowhere does it ring truer than in Wales. After a little break, we know we will be going into seriously tough pre-season training camps. We know it’s coming and but we know it’s worth it because of where it puts you. You’re in such a good space knowing how well conditioned you are and tow tough you are going to be to beat. We showed glimpses in the Six Nations against Italy and especially against France, that we can build upon.”

Adams has modified his gladiatorial instincts to further evolve his game, but his admirers can count on him to breathe the requisite fire for club and country for some time yet.

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