Sunday 18 February 2018

Paddy Jackson backed to succeed at fly-half for Ireland against South Africa

Ulster wing Craig Gilroy is backing provincial team-mate Paddy Jackson to rise to the occasion when Ireland tackle South Africa in the first Test at Newlands on Saturday.

Jackson is favourite to fill the void at fly-half left by Johnny Sexton's shoulder injury against the Springboks, having been selected ahead of Ian Madigan for the three-Test tour.

While Madigan was called up when Sexton's surgery was confirmed last week, it appears likely that Jackson will be handed the number 10 shirt for the first time since the World Cup warm-up game against Wales last August.

The 24-year-old has been a regular squad member under Joe Schmidt, but Madigan has been the preferred back-up to Sexton in the last two seasons, starting last year's World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina.

However, he has struggled to get game-time at Leinster since Sexton's return to the province, while his impending move to Bordeaux has weakened his claim.

Meanwhile, Jackson has grown in stature under Les Kiss at Ulster and was a central figure in their season.

And Gilroy believes that his old schoolmate is ready to step up to the challenge of the first Test in Cape Town.

"He's been fantastic. He's been a joy to play with," he said.

"It's not just off the back of this season that I say this, I played with Jacko at school, underage level, under-19s, under-20s, provincially and internationally.

"He's a joy to play with, I've always rated him so highly. I always enjoy playing with him and no doubt if he gets an opportunity I think he'll take it.

"I think this has probably been his best season on a personal level.

"Not only was he able to deliver on the pitch physically, but he stepped up as a leader. He spoke well to us guys post-game, at half-time and he talks well on the pitch and commands the plays that he wants.

"He delivers with ball-in-hand, his kicking game has been fantastic as well.

"Les knows Jack is more than capable.

"He has that smart rugby brain to make the decisions to take the ball to the line or if he decides to go himself, do you know what he's a tight wee man and he's a lot quicker than he looks.

"He's hard, Jacko. Sometimes he has a laugh at himself, but he'll get down to the nitty-gritty stuff and put his body on the line."

Jackson made his international debut as a 20-year-old against Scotland during the 2013 Six Nations and has collected 13 caps since then.

Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby has also seen the growth in Jackson's maturity over the course of the last season.

"Spending time with Paddy, (I've noticed) his game is growing and that leadership is improving," he said.

"I was up at the Toulouse game during the European Cup. He carried flat to the line, his distribution was excellent, his kicking skills were good.

"He's getting a real good balance to his game and I think he's had time in the squad to look at what Johnny does and how he approaches it, but he's got to be himself and he's got to put his own stamp on it.

"Like Mads, they both have the ability to play really flat and challenge the defence but they also have the ability to play the percentage game."

While losing Sexton is an undoubted blow for Ireland's hopes of beating the Springboks in South Africa for the first time, Easterby is hoping his understudies perform and put pressure on the Lions out-half when he returns next season.

"It allows us to see something else outside of what we know Johnny can give us," he said.

"That ability for those guys to step up will go a long way in the next couple of years for their continued involvement and development in the squad and that's only a good thing.

"It's a real positive that we can take out of the next few weeks."

Press Association

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