If Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson has any doubts about himself in the wake of Saturday’s traumatic Heineken Cup final experience against Leinster, he can take comfort from the fact that there are plenty of vastly experienced men who continue to have faith in him.
Post-Twickenham advocates have included Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin, who was prepared to gamble on the 20-year-old in the semi-final and final, and Jackson’s half-back partner, Ruan Pienaar.
Both have gone out of their way to highlight his potential, stressing the fact that he can learn and develop as a result of Saturday’s traumatic experience.
A third backer is the legendary Willie Anderson, the former Ulster and Ireland second row/No 8 forward whose jobs as a coach include stints with London Irish, Leinster and Scotland. But whereas Ulster are trying to withdraw Jackson from next month’s IRB Junior World Championships, Anderson feels the youngster would benefit from playing in than tournament than resting at home ahead of a rigorous pre-season.
“He’s 20 years of age and at that stage of your life you’d want to be playing as much as possible,” the former lock said. “For what it’s worth, my advice to him would be to get back on the horse and play again as quickly as possible.
“What he needs right now is somebody to put their arm around him shoulder, go through the tape with him and look at his game to find out what was good and what wasn’t. Together they should remember how he got there and then find out he felt beforehand as well as looking at how he was throughout the week leading up to the match.
“Was he confident? Did he fully understand the enormous pressure he was going to be under, not only when he got out there but throughout the days leading up to the match itself? Those are important questions that need to be answered.
“They should be looking at his build-up to the game and finding out how he felt before he went out so that he’s able to go away and tell himself, ‘From what I’ve gathered from people who know more than me at this stage, this is what I need to do in order to progress’.”
Anderson admitted to having been surprised to learn that Ulster wish to withdraw Jackson from the Ireland Under-20s side whose IRB World Championship bid gets under way on Monday, June 4 when they face South Africa.
“A fella of that age needs to go and play rugby,” Anderson said. “He will get his confidence back by playing, ideally at a level where he can compete if not dominate.
“For my money, playing is the key part of his development right now. So I could be wrong, but I think it would be more beneficial for him to go away and get into that tour, be part of the team and get himself back on the horse.
“That’s my own personal opinion as to what would be best for getting his confidence back up. You do that by going out and playing again. This boy has got talent, after all, so let him show it.”
And with one eye on fair play and the other on good man-management, Anderson was keen to absolve the youngster from an unfair portion of the blame for Ulster’s 42-14 Heineken Cup final beating.
“Young Jackson should not be the one shouldering all the blame for that performance at Twickenham,” he insisted. “There are a lot of other guys — all of them more senior than him — who would need to go through the same sort of analysis. They should be asking themselves, ‘Why did I not peak for that game and why didn’t I perform to the best of my ability?’ There are some very senior players who didn’t.
“They need to ask why they failed to take their chances and why they missed their tackles? Now that’s not all down to Paddy Jackson.
“He is good enough to recover and bounce back, but he needs to spend some time going through things with somebody he trusts, respects and can learn a lot from.”