Belfast Telegraph

Rejuvenated Paddy Jackson ready to take on the world

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

When the history of Irish rugby is written, Declan Kidney's name will feature heavily in some of its greatest days.

When the story of the former Munster and Ireland coach himself is told, Paddy Jackson's name will feature heavily in the chapter titled: 'Downfall.'

Yet here we are near the end of the same World Cup cycle in which Kidney picked a just-turned 21-year-old ahead of the vastly experienced Ronan O'Gara for the Six Nations visit to Murrayfield and the kid who crumbled against Scotland - having previously endured a nightmare Heineken Cup final - is now showing new levels of resolve at just the right time.

That decision didn't directly cost Kidney his job, but it contributed to the end of days. Now, it looks like his successor is set to benefit from an out-half who, at still just 23, is showing signs of real maturity and confidence and is close to the top of his game.

"In that position it's about experience. He's got a lot of technical expertise, but knowing when to do the right things at the right time is difficult," Ulster defence coach Jonny Bell explained.

"You learn through making mistakes, Paddy was thrust in at a young age and things didn't go unbelievably well at the start and he took a lot of flak, but you grow in your character and he's stronger mentally."

Within the Ulster dressing-room, Jackson is taking on more responsibility and earning the respect of his older, more experienced peers.

Jared Payne knows good out-halves having cut his teeth in a Crusaders team led by Dan Carter and has high hopes for his provincial team-mate.

"He's developing and if he can keep going like this he's definitely going to be a world-class out-half in a year or two hopefully," the Ireland centre said.

"His pass is unbelievable. There's a few times in training where if you don't get your hands out there quickly enough and it hits you in the stomach you get a bit winded.

"It's definitely a strength in his game and he's learning to use it more, he's developing a running game and if he can combine the two that would be great because his kicking is great. He's going to become the total package."

Few know Jackson better than his house-mate Iain Henderson who pointed out how hard the out-half works on his game, something that will tick one of Joe Schmidt's boxes.

"Paddy is an unbelievable player," Henderson said. "I'm not just saying that because I'm one of his best mates. Whenever you come into the stadium you can almost guarantee that Paddy is going to be there, practising his kicking, doing extra bits and pieces, just trying to keep on top of everything.

"That's paying off for him now."

Johnny Sexton is undoubtedly Ireland's No1 fly-half, but behind him there is no set hierarchy as Schmidt has chosen both Jackson and his opponent tomorrow Ian Keatley to start when the Racing Metro man is unavailable.

If the squad was picked today, Jackson would be in the 31 and another brilliant derby display against Munster could cement his place.

Belfast Telegraph


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