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Ulster Rugby must step up to the plate, says Paddy Jackson

By Jonathan Bradley

While nerves throughout the new-look stadium were shredded, the man himself remained assured and, during his side's ultimately futile attempt to eke out a potentially match-winning penalty, was hoping against hope for the opportunity to take on what would have been the most high-pressured kick of his career.

Ulster's fly-half reflected: "After hitting the other two penalties I was really confident and was just dying to get another shot but it didn't come and it was heartbreaking really.

"All we needed was one little break so we could have had a go but fair play to Saracens, they didn't give it to us."

By that stage of course, the game's most controversial moment had long since passed and Jackson was as shocked as anyone by referee Jerome Garces' decision to show Jared Payne a red card following a fourth minute collision with his opposite number Alex Goode.

"At no point did it really cross my mind that it would be a red card," said the nine-times capped Irish international.

"We had a while to talk on the pitch before the decision was made and we were trying to find out what we were going to do for 10 minutes if Jared got a yellow.

"It was a big shock then having to play with 14 men for 76 minutes but, even though we weren't good enough in the end, I think it shows how we've come along and we'll need that character over the next few weeks."

Their resolve will no doubt be tested by an injury list that has ruled six of Saturday's starters out of tonight's RaboDirect Pro12 contest with Connacht – while Payne has been handed a suspension that means he will not play until the visit of Leinster on May 2 – but Jackson feels the opportunity is now there for some of the squad's less heralded players to show their worth.

"There's a great chance now for a few boys to step up and show what they can do over the tail end of the season," he stated.

"We've still got a lot to play for in the Rabo. We've a tough run of games with Connacht, Glasgow, Leinster and Munster so it's a huge finish for us.

"I don't know if I'll ever get over it (the Saracens defeat) really but there's not much else we can do apart from continue on with the Rabo and that starts with needing to put in a good game against Connacht.

"If we can get a win, we can get the season back on track."

The former Methodist College pupil will also have his international place to play for over the next few weeks with Ireland set for a two Test tour of Argentina this summer.

Having replaced Johnny Sexton in the first four games of the victorious Six Nations championship, Ian Madigan was then preferred in the match-day 23 for the win over France leaving Jackson to watch on from the stands.

"It was a mixture of emotions," admitted the young stand-off.

"I was delighted to get my first try (against Italy) and to be involved for four games was brilliant for me. Then to miss out on the France game was heartbreaking but I got to be over with the boys in Paris and was delighted to be involved in a bit of Irish rugby history.

"Whether Sexton goes this summer or not, between (Ian) Keatley, Madigan and myself there's going to be competition for places so I need to make sure I'm playing well over the next few weeks to be in with a shot."

There is not quite so much of a challenge for his Ulster number 10 jersey, even if Rory McIlroy joked this week that he had extolled the virtues of his native province to Dan Carter when the pair enjoyed a chance meeting at an Augusta gym.

On the Holywood golfer's light-hearted attempts to see the All Black World Cup winning out-half at Ravenhill, Jackson quipped: "Maybe he could play 15 or 12."

Paddy Jackson was speaking after opening the new Nando's Restaurant at the Richmond Centre in Londonderry.

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