The Irish number 10 position is in safe hands, according to Jared Payne
Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30
When news of Johnny Sexton's shoulder surgery broke, many felt that Ireland's chances of success in South Africa went with the injured out-half.
Throughout the Joe Schmidt era, the Leinster star has been the team's most important player and the coach's main conduit on the field. Throughout that time, Sexton has been backed up by Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan, who knew where they stood in the pecking order.
It was always going to take an injury to Sexton to allow either of them their chance to shine.
Madigan started the World Cup quarter-final at short notice and struggled; a combination of a lack of game-time for Leinster and his decision to leave Ireland and move to Bordeaux saw him left out of the initial squad for this summer tour.
That meant that Saturday was Jackson's opportunity, and he didn't disappoint.
On both sides of the ball, the Ulsterman put in an excellent performance and, while it wasn't perfect, his ability to put errors behind him and live in the moment was admirable.
The first Test was 14th cap of the 24-year-old's stop-start international career and it was undoubtedly his best outing in green.
He kicked 16 points, made 13 tackles, was involved in two try-savers, almost scored a try, and perhaps most impressively dropped a goal when his side were down to 13 men.
Jared Payne knows a thing or two about out-halves, having played alongside Dan Carter and Sexton, and he believes his provincial team-mate has what it takes.
"Jacko's going to be a cracking fly-half," he said. "He's got everything you need: he's gutsy, he's fit, he's an awesome defender, he's just got everything and he's still really young, you've got to remember.
"People in Ireland probably crucified him a little bit back in the day because he got thrown in so young, which was pretty unfair.
"If I was as good as him at his age I'd be over the moon. He's only going to get better and better and it's going to be good for Irish rugby having both him and Johnny competing for the position."
At the highest level, trust has to be earned and Schmidt places great faith in those who have delivered for him and his team in the past.
"I've been lucky enough to play with Paddy for a long time now so I trust him but I think, hopefully, other guys might trust him a bit more now," Payne continued.
"You've got to, especially in that position, Nos 9 and 10 - even if it's a new guy coming in you've got to trust him as much as you would a seasoned pro because it gives them confidence to control the game.
"If you've got people talking over them and stuff it probably dulls their confidence a bit and makes it tougher for them and adds to the pressure.
"So the sooner you can just trust what they say, get the whole team behind it and not too many voices, it's easier for them, and everyone did that for Jacko at the weekend.
"He probably will have earned a bit more respect for the way he performed and it's cracking for him. I can't wait to see him get better."
Jackson's Ulster team-mates have consistently spoken of the improvement in the out-half's leadership this season, while Ireland skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy has worked closely with him this year.
Drop-goals were a particular focus, so the former Greystones No 10 was understandably chuffed when the first-half effort sailed through the posts.
"To have the confidence to take it on was massive and I think it was the perfect decision at the time," he said.
"We had played a couple of phases and we'd started to lose a bit of shape. We'd 13 v 15 men and three points at that stage of the game was vital."
For all that Jackson held his nerve at big moments, one of the major features of his display was his ability to get over bad moments like his restart that went out on the full and the intercept pass that led to Pieter-Steph du Toit's try.
"He didn't compound errors," Murphy said. "He threw an intercept pass, but he stepped up a couple of minutes later and nailed another penalty.
"He's shown good signs of maturity over the last 12 months. His game has been improving through that period.
"He works really hard on his game, he's becoming a leader in this environment and he's also very much a leader in the Ulster environment. I think he's just coming of age, he's 24 now.
"His place-kicking has been really good, from just before the World Cup. Ulster giving him the kicking duties this year was obviously a massive thing for him because at least he's been in situations.
"In the early part of that, he missed a few up there but as the season went on, he became more and more reliable and finished the season really well.
"I'd have full confidence in Paddy's goal-kicking. He has a really simple routine and a clear idea of what he's trying to do, which means it quite easy for him to deliver it. He did that at the weekend."