Wednesday 26 July 2017

Practice makes almost perfect for dead-eye Jackson

Having missed the US Test Jackson will be at the top of Schmidt’s list of go-to players. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Having missed the US Test Jackson will be at the top of Schmidt’s list of go-to players. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brenan Fanning

If you're in the goal-kicking business then knocking over 33 of your last 34 kicks puts you on the executive level. So for Paddy Jackson these are good times.

You have to go back to the defeat by Scotland in Murrayfield for the last time he pulled a shot wide of the target. Remarkably, he seems unaware of the exact richness of this particular vein of form.

"I didn't know that," he says. "I'm focused on the pitch, but off the pitch I don't really look into it too much. I just to try to play the game as it comes. It's pretty cool though - I'll try and keep that going."

A week ago it contributed to draining Japan of confidence, for his six out of six in Ecopa Stadium was confirmation for them that they would get no crumb of comfort from the experience.

In what should be perfect conditions in the Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, Tokyo on Saturday Jackson will expect to pick up where he left off.

Having missed the US Test Jackson will be at the top of Schmidt's list of go-to players to set the tone out here.

"Kicking has been, especially goal-kicking has been a huge work-on for me from the get-go. Especially with Ruan (Pienaar) being there I missed out on a lot of kicking opportunities to grow.

"At times I was coming into international games not kicking for my province.

"Now I've stepped up and took hold of the reins and knew I needed to be getting that experience week in, week out.

"It has paid out, and all of the help from the coaches back home, and Richie (Murphy) who has helped me a lot here. It's been good."

Jackson's early days in green seem like another lifetime now. Thrown in during the Declan Kidney era, before the Ulster fly-half was ready, he looked like a kid with low confidence and poor technique every time he stood over the tee.

He has needed mental strength to get over that, and to deal with various challenges and distractions along the way. To arrive out here and find the groove instantly illustrates perfectly how far he has come.

"You have just got to keep practising - and trust," he says. "When I first started kicking I was just kicking the ball and hoping that it would go over.

"Whereas now I trust my routine, and with that practice and experience I'm used to those environments now.

"Trust the routine, and if I can get my cues right the ball is going to go where I want it.

"It's a matter of experience, and every kicker has been there. I'm sure I'm going to be there again at some stage.

"Every kicker has an off-day. Once you know you can bounce back from it there's not too much to worry about."

If Schmidt sticks to his pre-tour plan then Jackson will be part of a team that has at its heart the rump of experience that's available in this group.

So inside him the Ulster 10 should have Kieran Marmion and outside him should be his clubmate, Luke Marshall. Currently, the only unused players on tour are the uncapped John Cooney and back-rower Sean Reidy.

interesting With Cooney heading to Ulster this summer, it would be interesting if his first run with Jackson should come in green rather than white.

"We haven't played together before," Jackson says. "It's good to get to know him a bit better. It's also good for him. He gets to meet a few lads before he comes in. And he is not just coming in off the back of not knowing a few of us.

"I have been talking him through what's it's like at home and how things go."

Up front, Schmidt needs to separate James Ryan and Kieran Treadwell for the bench spot covering second-row - the Ulster player is well ahead on form - and to figure who to disappoint in the back-row in order to accommodate Reidy.

If captain Rhys Ruddock and No 8 Jack Conan are the immoveable objects, then Dan Leavy or Josh van der Flier will be getting a rest. Possible Ireland S Zebo; K Earls, G Ringrose, L Marshall, J Stockdale; P Jackson, K Marmion; C Healy, N Scannell, J Ryan, Q Roux, D Toner, R Ruddock (capt), J Conan, J van der Flier.

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