Ulster's Les Kiss backing Paddy Jackson to kick on and make Ireland impact
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss has hailed the international potential of Paddy Jackson after seeing his out-half belt a late game-winning penalty from inside his own half against Oyonnax.
The province's Champions Cup campaign was in danger of going up in smoke in the unlikely venue of the Stade Charles Mathon on Sunday but, having trailed 23-0 at half-time, they battled back with tries from Rory Scholes, Craig Gilroy and Kyle McCall to set up Jackson's dramatic final kick.
Having been in a similar position last week against Munster, only to have his sideline penalty drift off target, the confidence shown by the 24-year-old to approach the tee so readily impressed Kiss.
"To see Paddy step up with such confidence to nail that was a big plus," said the Australian.
"He's always been mentally tough. Last week, to kick from there on the edge of the Kingspan pitch in the wet weather, your plant foot hits the ground and doesn't get stability to hit the ball properly.
"That (4G) pitch in Oyonnax, you get a solid plant leg, you follow through on your kick and you can nail it.
"He knew from when he did his kicking practice here he could nail those and he backed himself. It was fantastic and it shows his mental toughness.
"He's certainly growing as a very, very good player and a very, very good fly-half. He's only just begun really."
With the Six Nations just around the corner, Kiss is sure he could spend much of February and March without his influential No.10.
Jackson went to the World Cup last autumn but played only a minimal role with Joe Schmidt preferring Ian Madigan as Jonathan Sexton's back-up for the campaign.
In a rich vein of form since his return from the tournament, Kiss would not be surprised to see the 13-times-capped international establish himself in the Irish panel in the coming months and even put pressure on Sexton for the starting role.
"That's probably the next step for sure," he said.
"He's not kidding himself about whether he's a fully-fledged international yet. He'd like to have the opportunity to prove that.
"But we know what Sexton can do, we saw it on Friday night (against Ospreys). It's just good timing for Ireland.
"It's great to see that and it's good to see Paddy doing as well as he is and Mads is doing alright too. It's good from an Irish perspective."
On the decision to start both Jackson and scrum-half Ruan Pienaar from the bench, while Andrew Trimble did not travel, Kiss defended the calculated gamble that came so close to backfiring.
With three European games in succession - the second of which sees Ulster meet Saracens on Saturday - and rest weeks few and far between thanks to the World Cup, it remains impossible for players to start each game while Kiss maintained he has every faith in the players he drafted into the starting side.
"I trust the guys that came in," he stressed. "I knew that, if you needed to go to Paddy and Ruan, then they're going to nail a job for you. As a collective we have to take responsibility for (the first-half).
"Sometimes that happens, and when that happens, it's to the disadvantage of other guys (who started). The result came out, which was great."