Ulster Rugby must put the boot in, says Paddy Jackson
Published 14/12/2013 | 11:30
Paddy Jackson's mood ahead of this afternoon's Stadio Monigo clash with Benetton Treviso was that of a man at ease with himself and wholly confident as to his ability.
Buoyed up by an 18-point haul against the same opponents a week ago at Ravenhill, it is hardly surprising that his self-belief has been high throughout the countdown to this afternoon's Heineken Cup Pool 5 rematch.
"There's no reason not to be confident," says the out-half, who chalked up a half-century of Ulster appearances last weekend. Given that he is still just 21, that is quite a haul.
"We're playing well, playing some good rugby, so I think the whole team is looking good at the moment."
He shows remarkable maturity on the pitch. Off it, he is no less impressive. An old head on young shoulders. His common sense is reflected in a warning not to treat Treviso lightly this afternoon.
"They've been doing really well at home this year and they're a very physical side, so if we don't front up we're going to be in trouble," he cautions.
He knows Treviso will be smarting as a result of Ulster having put seven tries on them in round three. That fact, too, is one that must be borne in mind.
"They're going to be looking to spoil the party for us and put right what happened last week, so we can't take anything for granted going into this game. We have to put another good performance together," Jackson stressed.
Ulster's approach, he said, will be to attempt to replicate what they did seven days ago.
"We won't make too many changes to the game-plan," he said. "We just need to out-muscle them. It's going to be tough over there, but I think we can definitely do the job."
Jackson's role is key, outside-half being the hub from which the pace and pattern of games radiates. He is modest about what he brings to the 10 job, preferring to highlight the quality of those beside, behind and ahead of him.
"The forwards won a lot of possession last week. That gave us some really good options off nine and 10 and made it much easier for us to get a good flow to our game," he said.
It proved difficult to pay him a compliment, for when it was pointed out that his decision-making is getting better and better, his response was: "I've been doing it for three years now so you'd like to think I'd be confident enough to do it.
"I think it's a natural progression. It's hard coming in at a young age and everyone expecting you to be unbelievable and then when things don't go the way you want them people can be on your back.
"But I've always just trusted my game and the coaches have, too."
This season has seen responsibility for kicking Ulster's goals handed back to the youngster, though based on experience he was quick to stress that things there can change.
"I wouldn't say I've won that battle," he insisted. "I think I had the responsibility at this stage last year, too, and then I lost it (to Ruan Pienaar). So I've been doing a lot of work and training a lot and I think it's paying off. I took the responsibility on myself and I'm glad I've still got it at the moment.
"I haven't been doing anything special, just training very hard – myself and Neil Doak – and looking at a few small things. Just putting in the hours and practising a lot; that's really all there has been to it."
Jackson is highly appreciative of the quality in the Ulster back line. It is obvious that he enjoys playing alongside his colleagues.
"We have a lethal back three," he enthused. "Then we've got Luke (Marshall) there giving us really good front ball. I thought he was brilliant at the weekend against Treviso; he got some good gain lines for us. And then Cavey (Darren Cave, pictured) putting in the last passes for four tries, which was brilliant.
"I think myself, Lukey and Cavey are providing some good ball for the back three so we're all complementing each other nicely."
The quality of some of what was served up against Treviso gave him a lot of satisfaction.
"Obviously Treviso didn't show their best colours and once we got ahead it became a lot easier as our game got better," he said. "But we can't read too much into that; fair enough, we played some great rugby and we got a lot of tries, but it's not going to be like that every week.
"Obviously it's nice to be running in tries like that, but that isn't always the case. Thankfully there's a good balance in our side – we can be direct and use our forwards and also we can use our outside backs. That means we have options.
"We've put pressure on ourselves to do well in both the Rabo and the Heineken, so the goal for us at this stage is to get out of our group again. Beating Treviso is another step towards that."
* BOTH Benetton Treviso and Leicester Tigers – Heineken Cup Pool 4 bed-fellows of Ulster and Montpellier – have made a change to their tournament squads.
Treviso, who host Ulster in Italy this afternoon, have replaced prop Fabio Stalbano with 28-year-old Matteo Muccignat.
Leicester's change is at prop, too, with Tiziano Pasquali, 19, taking over from 26-year-old Samoan international Lugovi'i Mulipola.