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Paddy Jackson is ready to prove his worth after injury woe

Paddy sets his sights on earning an Ireland recall

By Michael Sadlier

An icy wind is whipping around the stadium, and Paddy Jackson is feeling the chill as he huddles up to the heater in the room while those warily looking on, with recording devices poised, wonder just how things are about to unfold as they prepare to share some warmth which might solely be coming their way from the electrical appliance.

Not that Jackson is likely to prove difficult, it's just that he has had a very challenging few months and more than enough to put him off having to reflect on his season so far.

First up, there was his back injury which forced him out of Ireland's summer tour to Argentina and even interrupted his pre-season with him going four months without being able to kick a ball. Not good.

Then there was the concussive episode which made him miss last month's Glasgow game and, to top it all, he was then left out of Joe Schmidt's squad for Ireland's autumn internationals and has watched Ian Madigan and now even Ian Keatley move ahead of him in the coach's thoughts.

His form has also not been at its finest either, so all the ingredients are there to make this an awkward occasion with Jackson possibly going on the defensive from the off.

However, as it happens, the 22-year-old is in fairly upbeat form and actually not of a mind to dodge the looming issues.

Naturally, Chris Henry features in the discussion with Jackson telling of meeting up for a coffee with the flanker, who has been sidelined with a serious health scare, while he was undergoing a series of tests during what Jackson describes as "a scary time" which has now passed.

"He now just wants to focus on getting better and getting back," Jackson says of his team-mate before moving on to addressing how things have been going for himself.

On that score, Jackson fronts up and admits: "It has been a fractured start to the season for me and it has been tough but I don't think I've been playing my usual self.

"Hopefully with a run of back-to-back games I can get back to the stage where I was at this time last season.

"That's what happens," Jackson says with acceptance of his current situation.

"Everything isn't going to be perfect and I just need to keep developing my game. And if I keep on top of things and don't them slip, I'm confident with a few back-to-back games that I'm going to be in a good place."

Jackson has a point as his first three PRO12 outings for Ulster in this campaign -starting with the side's third game at Cardiff Blues - all ended up with him leaving the action early before then missing the Glasgow game.

None of this has really allowed Jackson to hit his straps and, as a result, he explains that Schmidt's decision to leave him out of the Ireland squad was one he could not really take issue with.

"It was disappointing (to be excluded by Schmidt) but personally I didn't think I was playing well enough to go down (to Ireland camp).

"But I know myself I'm not playing my normal game so I'm just focusing on keeping my head down and putting the work in.

"He (Schmidt) spoke to me before the squad was announced and said that I hadn't played enough games and I agreed," states Jackson.

"I said I didn't expect to be involved too much with the limited game time that I had got and that I wasn't playing my usual game.

"We had a good talk and he explained things and he wants me getting more games and focusing on games with Ulster and in the long run (looking at) the Six Nations."

Ah yes, the Six Nations. After starting for Schmidt in last year's opening autumn international against Samoa - Schmidt's first in charge - Jackson then failed to make the bench for the remaining two Tests as Ian Madigan got the nod, presumably for his greater versatility.

But the Ulsterman then benched as cover for Jonathan Sexton in the 2014 Six Nations before being notably left out for the final game in Paris with Madigan again being brought in for what he could offer as the coach needed centre and out-half covered.

It must have been a bitter blow for Jackson but after being released to play for Ulster on the Friday, he was flown straight out to the Stade de France and took part in the title-winning celebrations which, the way things have worked out, has been the closest the nine-times capped player has been to wearing the green shirt again.

But that was then and as he points out, Schmidt has given him a target to aim for though the main thrust of his work at the moment is to continue propelling Ulster forward starting with tonight's meeting with PRO12 leaders the Ospreys, who are also the league's only unbeaten side.

"They have got a lot of momentum," Jackson says of the Welsh region who have been hit by Wales call-ups.

"If we can come out and play the way we know we can and stop them getting that momentum into their game and focus on the physical side then we'll be in a good place.

"Hopefully the weather is good and there will be some running rugby, but it's going to an exciting night and it will be good to get back to the Kingspan in front of a sold-out crowd."

He felt that he could have done without the three-week break between games such has been the nature of Jackson's season so far and there is no doubting his eagerness to get back on the park.

"I'm looking forward to getting a run of games and get playing some good rugby."

Sounds like a decent plan of attack.

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