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Paddy Jackson: Ulster can look forward to happy New Year

By Jonathan Bradley

With Ulster's schedule saving them from their usual Boxing Day tilt, Paddy Jackson admitted his festive period was all the sweeter after the side got back to winning ways against Connacht on Friday night.

The province would have traditionally been in action today but, for the first time since 2012, their derby game was instead held before Christmas.

And with the 23-7 victory over the champions lifting spirits ahead of the holiday season, Jackson was full of Christmas cheer.

"Every year we've had a Boxing Day game," he said.

"It's nice not to for a change; you can stuff yourself with Christmas dinner instead.

"Coming into Christmas, you just want to get that win. It's always in the back of your mind that you want to enjoy Christmas.

"It's nice to see yourself sitting in those top four positions too.

"When results didn't go our way, and having the game in hand, we were out of it but coming into the holidays, now it's nice."

While the win, that came courtesy of tries from Stuart McCloskey and Clive Ross, was often not the most aesthetically pleasing, Jackson felt it was an imperative result, given both their loss to the same opposition in October's reverse fixture and last time out against Clermont in the Champions Cup.

"It's always important in the interpro games and we were a bit bitter after losing to them down there," he said. "You never like to lose to any of the interpro teams.

"We had a point to prove and the lads did well to get the win.

"After the disappointment against Clermont, we can just take confidence from getting back on the horse.

"We've Leinster next, and we don't have the best track record at the RDS, but we need to focus on our own game and not worry too much about them.

"If we get our contacts right and our discipline, that's a big one for us. If we stay on the right side of the ref, we can deny them access to our half."

Jackson will probably not be in the team for that Leinster game on Saturday, with player management usually dictating that frontline internationals play in only one of the two festive fixtures.

With his 2016 therefore in the books, the out-half is able to reflect upon a year on the field that has raised his standing in the national side.

He showed during the summer tour to South Africa that he was certainly ready for the rigours of Test rugby while, with Johnny Sexton's injury problems continuing, there is no longer the same sense of foreboding when the first-choice ten misses an international.

"I'm probably not panicking as much either," said Jackson with a half chuckle. "It happens. The more I play, the more comfortable I feel, and the lads around me feel.

"I've been in there a good while, I know the plays inside out. I can focus on my game and take it step by step.

"I took a good bit of confidence out of South Africa. We came back still annoyed we didn't win the series but it was great to get that first win on South African soil.

"We take a lot of confidence from that.

"Coming out of the Autumn Internationals, I got a good bit of game time there too. With Johnny and Joey (Carberry) there, you don't know what can happen so I was delighted.

"Any time you pull on the green jersey, you come back here feeling that little bit more comfortable."

And if the out-half has been key to some of Ireland's big performances this year, his provincial team-mate Rory Best has been front and centre for all of them.

For Jackson, the Irish skipper remains an inspiration.

"He's an unbelievable leader," said the 24-year-old.

"It's strange. He's gone up another level which is bizarre.

"Everyone looks up to him in the Ireland and Ulster squad.

"The calm aura he has, on and off the pitch, it's inspiring to watch.

"The way he speaks to everyone when things are going well is great but what stands out to me is how he is when things aren't going well, how he rallies the boys.

"There'd be a few guys you can see their heads going away but he just makes them zone back in.

"I'd be an aspiring leader and as a ten it's something I play close attention to and try to learn from."

While the likes of Jackson and Best are likely to be spared the trip to the RDS, another Irish international is targeting the game for a return to action.

Andrew Trimble has not featured since injuring his foot playing for Ireland against Australia last month but had hoped to figure against Connacht.

While the visit of Pat Lam's men came just too soon, the winger said he aims to feature in Dublin.

"It's going in the right direction," he said.

"I just didn't get there in time (for Connacht) but I've done plenty of running the last couple of weeks as punishment for not really being 100 per cent fit.

"It's just that sharp change of direction that's not right there," he added.

"Unfortunately, I get to do a lot more running now with (S&C coach) Jonny Davis.

"I hope I'll be ready for Leinster. If I can get in at the start of next week and not stuff my face too much, hopefully we'll see how we go."

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