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Jackson wants to end seesaw season on high

By Michael Sadlier

Like every career, there are peaks and troughs to be navigated.

Paddy Jackson has already had intimate exposure to both and has also shown considerable fortitude to absorb the hurt and just move on.

The 21-year-old's game has come under considerable scrutiny this season as he made his Six Nations debut in what proved to be the dying embers of Declan Kidney's time at Ireland's helm while, back at Ulster, he is no longer the primary placekicker thanks to the presence of Ruan Pienaar.

It seems painfully intrusive to point all this out, but he knows it's coming and faces his interrogation with the same matter of fact approach that was also present in the immediate aftermath of last season's losing Heineken Cup final.

"I try not to listen to it all too much," he says when the criticism directed at him over the Six Nations is mentioned.

"It's hard not to hear it but you just kind of, well, there's not much you can do about it, what's said is said. "I know I believe in myself and I think I'm good enough to play at this level and all that matters is what you think and your family and friends. That's the way I see it."

His talent and ability is undoubted as is his mental toughness – he is hoping to make Ireland's summer tour to America and Canada to both challenge Ian Madigan's rise and to clearly impress new coach Joe Schmidt –and there are few complaints over having surrendered the primary kicking duties to Pienaar.

"Yeah it's a bit of a difference," Jackson admits over knowing that the Springbok is taking the shots at goal while also occasionally playing in place of him at out half. "But with Ruan in there, well, he's one of the best kickers around so there's not much I can do about that. It's a bit harder to get into the game with not having the kicking but it's been working well for us and I just really looking forward to playing.

"I think everyone's feeling fresh enough even though it's the tail end of the season so this is really the last big push now," he adds while the conversation steers towards the more reassuring ground of tonight's RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final with Scarlets.

"I'm glad to be involved," he says. "There's an added pressure with the final beckoning but you've just got to put that to the back of your mind and just play it like another game.

"We've been a bit slow out of the blocks this season so it's something we need to do address for Friday so we're really hoping to put them to the sword early," Jackson added.

Even though he had made his senior Ulster debut that season, Jackson played no part in Ulster's 2011 league semi-final appearance when they were beaten by Leinster at the RDS.

He was however still kicking points in both Ulster's wins over the Scarlets earlier in the season and though the last time the west Wales side turned up at Ravenhill, in January, they were tanked 47-17, Jackson won't speculate that this scoreline will be repeated on Friday evening even though Simon Easterby's side were also badly turned over last week at home to Treviso.

"I think they were booed off their own pitch but we're not reading too much into any of that and there's bound to be some form of reaction from them. I'd say they'd be very up for it."

No better time for him to remind us of his worth

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