Jackson backed to rule Twickenham
Paddy Jackson can be forgiven if he has mixed feelings about returning to Twickenham on Saturday night.
Last May, aged 20 with a mere handful of games under his belt, he found himself centre-stage in a Heineken Cup final with 82,000 in the stadium and millions more watching on television.
Like other much more experienced Ulster players round him, the youngster froze, enabling Leinster, the holders, to take full advantage of their rivals' inexperience in a shoot-out for the most coveted prize in European club rugby.
But Ulster have just completed a first-ever home and away PRO12 double over their southern adversaries, with Jackson playing a key role at Ravenhill on December 21 and the RDS last Saturday night.
And having seen him outplay Leinster's Ian Madigan at the weekend, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe and captain Johann Muller have backed their boy to make his critics eat their words.
Highlighting Jackson's development since May 19, 2012, Muller said: "He has changed a helluva lot as player.
"Basically I run out at the front and that's about it. It's Paddy who runs this team. He's an outstanding little leader and he has put in a huge amount of work, week in and week out, analysing videos, making sure that the calling system is in place.
"From a captain's point of view it's the greatest feeling in the world that you can run out there and have 100% confidence in this guy, ability-wise and also (in) running the team. Nines and tens basically run your team and he has done an absolutely brilliant job.
"We get an email every Tuesday night from Paddy telling us exactly what the calls are, where we're doing what on the field. That's a special person."
Stressing Jackson's durability, Muller added: "He has been knocked down so many times, but he gets up, better and better and better every single time so I've got a huge amount of respect for him.
"I think in time he's going to become a world-class player if he keeps his head down and keeps on working hard, like he has done over the past couple of months.
"There are 14 guys (starters), 22 guys (including replacements) and a management who back him 100%. And I think when you've got the confidence of people behind you, you just go from strength to strength.
"Every individual is going to have bad games, it doesn't matter who you are. But it's important how you bounce back and Paddy – every time he has been knocked down – has bounced back perfectly."
Brian McLaughlin, not Anscombe, was coach when Ulster lined out at Twickenham 11 months ago. And it was he who gave Jackson his chance on the big stage.
McLaughlin's successor has total faith in Jackson, too, not least because of his mental strength.
"It's less than a year that he was in a final and a helluva lot has happened to the young man in 12 months. He has had his highs and lows," Anscombe said.
"He's in a position where people pay a lot of attention to spectators and the media because it's an important position.
"Paddy is resilient, He's a tough little character; he has been beaten up at times by people, media-wise, but he bounces back. The fact is that, in all of this, he is still the same person, still the same footballer we think he is and we have a lot of faith and confidence in him.
"A lot of people in football are on (for) you sometimes and against you the next, but the fact is that you've got to be able to believe in yourself.
"His is still the same footballer that we have confidence in. We want him at 10, we think he's a great little footballer, so nothing has changed in that.
"All of us, all the players today, everyone will have poor games ahread of them. That's life, that's the way it is. But it's how you bounce back from that.
"You've got to support the person; you know he's only 21. I think a great attribute for a 10 is to be able to flush mistakes or poor calls or a missed kick and get on with your game because you can't do anything about what has happened.
"But what you can do is control what's in front of you and I think he shows that he's got that in truckloads."