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Jackson fit and ready to kick against France

By Niall Crozier

Ulster's Paddy Jackson has been confirmed as Ireland's first-choice kicker for today's Test against France.

That was underlined on Thursday by team manager Mick Kearney after the 21-year-old came through a work-out to prove he was over the hamstring twinge of which he had complained at the start of the week.

Despite a one-from-four-attempts-off-the-tee performance two weeks ago, when he made his international debut against Scotland at Murrayfield, Jackson has been entrusted with putting the boot into the French this evening at the Aviva Stadium (5pm).

He starts, with fellow-rookie Leinster's Ian Madigan – yet to win his first cap – providing the back-up from the bench.

In the aftermath of his baptism of fire in Edinburgh, Jackson was on Ulster duty last Friday night when Mark Anscombe's side hosted Benetton Treviso.

The Kiwi – whose son, Gareth, is a 21-year-old fly-half with Auckland Blues back in New Zealand – showed his faith in the former Methody stand-off, putting him straight back into the firing line by handing him responsibility for Ulster's goal-kicking.

After missing his first effort, Jackson came good, landing seven of the next eight in a display Anscombe described as "excellent".

All told he contributed 19 of Ulster's points in their 29-29 draw. That ability to bounce back impressed Ireland's head coach Declan Kidney.

Jackson, Madigan and Leinster's Fergus McFadden, who will be on the right wing today, were at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday and it was as a result of what they saw in the course of that kickers' work-out that Kidney and his entourage of assistants decided the Ulster player was the man for the job.

Manager Kearney explained the thinking behind the pecking order by saying: "Fergus is an option and that's why he went to the Aviva to practice. He's been very successful as a place-kicker with Leinster.

"But Paddy is first choice and we have every confidence that he will perform.

"If Ian comes on then we have full confidence in him as well. If Ian comes on, he'll be place-kicking as well.

"Paddy kicked in the Aviva Stadium and kicked well and trained fully."

As for the injury scare itself he explained: "His hamstring first tightened up after Monday's session so there was a bit of concern about him. He sat out the session on Tuesday, received treatment and did some light running in the afternoon.

"He then came through kicking at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday afternoon very well, so that clarified things for us."

McFadden, now 26, is in for Jackson's Ulster colleague Craig Gilroy who is sidelined by a groin injury. This will be his 17th Test appearance and his first since November when he entered the fray as a replacement against Argentina.

Expressing his delight to be starting, McFadden said: "Now my chance has come in a big game and I need to show that maybe I should have been there from the start."

Belfast Telegraph

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