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Paddy Jackson keen to leave his Ulster woe firmly in the past

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 02/06/2016

Bound for South Africa: Paddy Jackson
Bound for South Africa: Paddy Jackson

As he prepares for a summer in South Africa, Paddy Jackson is looking to put the end of Ulster's season behind him.

The out-half joined up with Joe Schmidt's men earlier this week as one of only two No.10s in the squad that will take on the Springboks for three Tests and with his international career seemingly set to get back on track after a frustrating two years on the periphery.

But for a player who had convinced himself that this was the Ulster squad that would finally end the province's silverware hoodoo, another disappointing PRO12 semi-final defeat at the hands of old rivals Leinster was hard to bear with the wound still fresh over a week on.

"It's still hard to think about at the moment," said Jackson before heading to camp in Dublin.

"It just really hurts. At the minute it feels like the end of the world. It seems as if it has happened over and over again in the last few seasons but it doesn't get any easier.

"That's life and I'm sure once I get over it, I'll be back champing at the bit to win silverware for the club. It's something that means so much to me."

While visibly struggling to deal with the loss and the end of his provincial campaign, the dejection is felt all the more keenly when he thinks of his captain Rory Best.

"I think one of the big disappointments was that everyone wanted to do it for Rory," reflected Jackson, whose own form was one of the key reasons Ulster made it to the semi-finals at all.

"He's put so much into this place for so many years.

"He's led us so well. The way he addresses the group is fantastic and to fall short again… we felt like we let him down."

While Best (below) is one of the few surviving members from the 2006 Celtic League triumph, Jackson himself is racking up quite the list of knock-out heartache with the province.

Since starting the Heineken Cup final in 2012, he has lost seven win-or-bust games with Ulster with only one victory to remember fondly. While still only 24, he admits he has had enough disappointment on the rugby field to last him a career.

"It's a bit bizarre for me because I've been involved in all of them," he said.

"I still have a good bit of my career left so hopefully I'll have more opportunities.

"We can play some outstanding rugby but we need to bring that into the knock-outs. We've had all these opportunities and we haven't done it yet but we're not going to stop working until we do it.

"I fully believe that will be next season."

With a daunting summer in South Africa to negotiate before a well-earned rest - Jackson will surely get more game-time for Ireland now that Ian Madigan's move to Bordeaux has him outside of the national set-up - the former Methody pupil is already looking forward to next season and stresses that, despite such a disappointing end to the campaign, the future is bright under Les Kiss and Neil Doak.

"Les has brought a great environment and philosophy," added Jackson. "That translates into the way we're playing. There's been some great rugby and him and Doakie have really got our attack going. It hurts now but we still believe in ourselves.

"That starts at the top with Les and Doakie and feeds down through Rory and to the rest of the players. I think it's an infectious thing having leaders like that in the squad. They'll make sure we bounce back. We have all this motivation and we'll keep going until we succeed."

When we next see Jackson on a rugby field it will likely be in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Port Elizabeth looking to make history as a member of the first Ireland side to win a Test in South Africa; the man himself sounds like he can't wait for his next outing in Belfast.

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