Paddy Jackson has quality to silence Ravenhill doubters
Ulster, Ireland and Lions hooker Rory Best has expressed his belief in 21-year-old Paddy Jackson.
Best, a big fan of his young provincial and international team-mate, has been impressed by the fledgling fly-half's maturity in coping with adversity, something of which he himself has recent experience in view of his disappointing summer tour of Australia with the Lions.
The 67 times-capped front row warrior said: "When you've been around a bit, done a few things and have seen various scenarios and situations, you know that the tougher things get for a young player the more he sometimes needs others to help him."
And reflecting on Jackson's difficult start to the new season he pointed out: "Paddy didn't have a great game against the Dragons – nobody did – but the way he bounced back against Glasgow showed real character.
"He has a great attitude; he worked his socks off over the summer, practising his goal-kicking. These are the things nobody sees – when everybody else was driving away, leaving to go home, he was still out there kicking 100-plus balls.
"It's the same with me and my throwing," said Best, drawing the parallel between the pair's additional responsibilities as goal-kicker and line-out thrower. Because he knows all about the loneliness that goes with being the man in the spotlight, he understands the pressure Jackson is under.
"You practise and practise on your own, but sometimes in a match the head overrules all of that work and your confidence does go a bit. You have to work through that when it happens," the hooker continued.
"Most people don't see the effort Paddy puts into being a better player. But we, as players working beside him, see it and that's why, when he does well, you go out of your way to praise him because he deserves it."
Best (pictured) is keen to remind those who have been critical of the Ulster number 10 that almost all of those who have gone on to emerge as acclaimed players had their doubters and detractors in the early days of their careers.
"We were all young players once and when you're at that stage you do look for people to stand up. And as a senior player you've got to be the one who says, 'Look, this is a bit tough now, but if we dig in and stay together it will get easier for us'.
"That can be from one minute to the next in a game. Because rugby is such a momentum-based sport, all it needs is one play from somebody and all of a sudden everyone's chest fills with air again and they're on top of the ground.
"So young guys sometimes look for that from a senior player. That's only natural and as a senior player you try to be that man. But sometimes it's just about stepping up and being that man yourself.
"When you look at what he has done already, in such a pivotal position, it really is a lot," Best stressed.
"And because we have such quality players there has been a lot of pressure heaped on him.
"But he has had nobody to learn from. He's really come in straight from school to be the number one here. He didn't have a couple of years under David Humphreys or Ronan O'Gara or Jonathan Sexton. He has had to learn it all on his own and, unfortunately, the only way to learn is the hard way – by making mistakes.
"Okay, he has made a few of those. But he has shown more than enough in the past couple of seasons for me to believe that he is going to be a quality player.
"I think he just needs a little time and allowed to make the odd mistake. The sign of a good player is not that he doesn't make mistakes but that he doesn't keep making them.
"You look through all the top quality players and they've all got there having made mistakes.
"You look at somebody like Brian O'Driscoll; nobody can remember him making mistakes as it was so long ago.
"But when he was 19, 20, 21, 22, he was making mistakes in big games, so he would have had his fair share of criticism. But he's come through the other side of it.
"Both David and ROG, over the years, were questioned on their way up, too, but they came through it. So Paddy is going to get questioned – that's part of the game now; there's more attention.
"But he's a nice guy and he's got a great character, so we've got high hopes for him here. I hope he does really well and not just because I want to win things and he's going to be pivotal to us doing that. It's because he has a great attitude as well as ability; that's why he deserves to do well."