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Six Nations: Paddy Jackson confident of retaining number 10 jersey for journey to Italy ahead of Sexton

By Jonathan Bradley

Paddy Jackson will be preparing to hold on to the Ireland number 10 jersey against Italy this week, even after head coach Joe Schmidt refused to rule Johnny Sexton out of the clash in Rome.

Jackson played all 80 minutes of the 27-22 defeat to Scotland on Saturday, scoring one try and adding seven points with the boot.

While there was much talk before the game surrounding how Ireland would fare without Sexton's hand on the tiller, Jackson again acquitted himself well at out-half, making the most out of ponderously slow ball coming out of breakdowns where the Scots decidedly had the upper hand.

Following on from his showings against South Africa and Australia, as well as off the bench against New Zealand, over the last eight months, Jackson again showed he can play at this level but Schmidt has said a call will be made on Sexton's availability for Rome - where he has only played once in his seven-year Test career - during the early part of this week.

"To be honest, I'm not sure at this stage," said the Kiwi when asked who would be wearing the number 10 jersey in The Eternal City.

"We're going to wait and see. Johnny wasn't that far away (from facing Scotland) so he could come into the picture, but the more time that Paddy gets running the team, and the Six Nations is a little bit different to what he's done in the past.

"It was tough for Paddy (in Edinburgh) because when you're not winning collisions and your ball is very slow, it's hard to get things moving and running."

No matter what happens with Sexton and his ailing calf, Jackson enters this week assuming he is going to face the Azzurri.

"I'll always prepare as if I'm starting," he said. "Even if I wasn't, that's how I'd look at it.

"For me coming into Scotland, I had a really good two weeks training with the team getting a good bit of game time.

"I was preparing as if I was starting from day one in camp. I felt good, I was running all the plays and I got good prep."

Despite feeling he and his team-mates had done all they could in the build-up, Jackson could not put his finger on why Ireland started so sluggishly in game they trailed at one point by a score of 21-5.

"I wouldn't say we weren't up for it up for it or anything like that," he stated.

"We have to look back at it but nobody goes out to lose a game. Nobody wants to be that many points down."

Despite giving their hosts such a substantial head start, Jackson's conversion of his own score after 65 minutes gave Schmidt's men a first lead, and at that point the 25-year-old saw only one winner.

"At that stage, I felt really good. We had the momentum and then got back down there, a line-out maybe seven or eight metres out was an opportunity which we missed again.

"There's a few things we need to look back on because we hurt ourselves. We seemed to have good pitch position even though things weren't going perfectly for us. That's rugby and it's stuff we have to look at.

"We have to look at things personally and collectively and look to fix it from there."

In this the first of the two-game blocks, such a fix will need to be quick and Jackson assured supporters that the side would quickly turn attention to this week's challenge. "We're all disappointed," he added. "I think naturally we'll be down for a couple days, then we'll get into camp, review the game and it's back to normal.

"We've got to focus on Italy and there's still a championship there for us. We've been in positions like this before. We know how to bounce back.

"We're a tight group. It was a close game and we all know what the difference was, it was our mistakes.

"We'll get back on the horse."

Belfast Telegraph

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