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Scotland v Ireland: Tough times helped Paddy Jackson grow, says Rory Best

Ireland skipper salutes Ulsterman's strong character and speaks of his delight to see good friend Bowe back in green after long absence

By Jonathan Bradley

When Paddy Jackson started a Heineken Cup final as a 20-year-old in 2012, Rory Best had a front-row view.

So, too, the next season when the young out-half was pitched into the heat of a Six Nations battle with Scotland for his international debut.

As such, there are few men better placed to speak of his Ulster team-mate's determination to succeed ahead of the No.10's return to Murrayfield in an Ireland jersey this afternoon (2.25pm kick-off).

Thrown in at the deep end on both of those occasions, neither performance went to plan with Ireland skipper Best hailing how Jackson emerged a better player on the other side and one capable of filling Jonathan Sexton's shoes in Edinburgh today.

"With Jacko especially, you could write a book on some of the setbacks he's had," said the man set to win his 101st cap.

"For me, that's the sign of a good player. You learn there and then what happened, learn how you can get better and move on.

"You see players, maybe not under the microscope like he's been, making those sort of mistakes in provincial games and then you never see them again.

"That's because they don't have the same character.

"Guys like Jacko, and all the great and the good that have played for Ireland, everyone has had a game they'd like to forget but they've all pushed on and learned from it.

"I've really seen the growth in Jacko since 2013. It's a long time ago now, especially in rugby terms."

Now one of the core leaders at Kingspan Stadium, Jackson will be expected to show the same skills today with 2013 Test Lion Sexton's calf injury keeping him out for this opening game at the very least.

"I think the growth of Jacko since before the World Cup has been evident for anyone mapping him," said Best. "Up in Ulster we would certainly be in a much worse position without him.

"He runs things for us and he's learned a lot from working with Jonathan and Joe (Schmidt) in that World Cup period when it was all rugby.

"It's a long time from June through October and he really learned a lot and matured through that.

"He's certainly a guy that performs well under pressure and he has the backing of the team."

Jackson's place at out-half has slightly overshadowed a red letter day for another Ulster team-mate, Tommy Bowe.

Having won a 67th cap in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina in 2015, it has been a long wait for the Monaghan man to earn number 68 but it should come from the bench today.

Ireland's second highest try-scorer of all time suffered a serious knee injury against the Pumas in Cardiff that day, while a recurrence last April kept him out for a further six months.

For Best, seeing his long-time team-mate back in green is an indication that you should never be too quick to write off such a talent.

"For him, it is absolutely fantastic," said Best. "For anyone coming back from serious injury it shows that perseverance, but a lot of people had written Tommy off.

"You get an injury like that when you are in your 30s, people think it isn't just bad form, they think you're done and that's what he had to contend with.

"It has been a long, long time for him and at Ulster we would see him and the roller-coaster of emotion he has been through.

"I am just delighted to see him under the microscope of a big Test match again, it's great."

For both Ireland and Best, the feel of today remains in stark contrast to a year ago.

Following their humbling exit from the World Cup, the men in green were labelled a team in transition coming into 2016 with Best as their new leader. A third-place finish then seemed somewhat fitting but since, and with Best once again proving his leadership credentials along the way, they have beaten New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

And while the buzz of leading the side will never diminish, Best is now more used to his role.

"It's like anything and no matter how many games you've had, that first one, and even things like going to the official launch last year, they're new experiences and with that comes uncertainty," he added.

"Eventually you grow into it and you learn to relax and trust the people around you, that's certainly something I've realised over the 12 months."

Today, Ireland will again have plenty of trust in him.


SCOTLAND - Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Jonny Gray; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, Josh Strauss. Replacements: Ross Ford, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, John Barclay, Ali Price, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett.

IRELAND - Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieran Marmion, Ian Keatley, Tommy Bowe.

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