Monday 23 April 2018

Paddy Jackson eager to reclaim centre stage after watching rivals strut their stuff

Paddy Jackson, Ulster, is tackled by Gordon D'Arcy, Leinster. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Paddy Jackson, Ulster, is tackled by Gordon D'Arcy, Leinster. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Paddy Jackson spent much of last weekend on the couch, and most of that time trapped between feelings of gleeful astonishment and thinly concealed envy as two exponents of his particular art flaunted their stuff.

On Saturday he proudly wallowed in the achievements of a familiar friend, one-time schoolmate James McKinney, as he nonchalantly steered a strung-together side to victory in, of all places, Thomond Park.

If that wasn't enough, less than 24 hours earlier he watched with awe and wonder as Johnny Sexton spearheaded Racing Metro's audacious coup against tragic Toulouse.

Quite the weekend, watching out-half rivals ripping it up.

"Hopefully I'll get my place back this week," the Ulster out-half smiles.

The club's approach to Munster could have backfired; instead it has fired them up ahead of this week's Pro12 semi-final date with Leinster.

"It was a great boost for us," continues Jackson. "I've come up through school with James, we get on really well. He's been very frustrated in not getting much game-time. Any time he has played, he's done really well and kicked all his goals. He was delighted to get his chance and basically won the game for us."

So he'd be more than willing to let him do so again? "Em, nope!"

As for Sexton, Jackson could only admire his assured contribution to Racing Metro's success; they are at once colleagues and rivals.

The younger man knows that the deeper Sexton is enmeshed in the Top 14's convoluted play-offs, the more enhanced his chances of nailing a place in Joe Schmidt's first Test team to face Argentina on June 7.

"It would be great to get a start regardless of whether Johnny is touring," says Jackson, who has cast aside the gutting experience of being jettisoned from Schmidt's final championship game in Paris.

"I'm still fighting for my place on the plane!" he adds, in deference to the fact that Ian Madigan edged him for the bench berth when Ireland clinched the title in March.

"Ian Keatley is also playing well. There's a lot of competition. Johnny has played a lot of rugby this season.

"But I'm not dwelling on what the choice will be. I'd love to get a spot on the tour because it was disappointing not to feature at all last summer. So that's definitely a goal for me."

Other defining goals will, meantime, intervene to compete for his more urgent attention; specifically, denying Leinster the opportunity to deploy Ulster as roadkill en route to re-stocking their trophy cabinet.

But how can they learn the lessons of recent crushing final defeats in both European and domestic competition?

"It's about finishing, it's about taking all our opportunities," says the 22-year-old. "We definitely left one try out there against them in the final last year. A couple of weeks ago, we gave away too many penalties. Every time we scored, we'd allow them to reply immediately. So the main thing is to be that little more ruthless in terms of taking chances.

"Leinster are one of the top sides in Europe, they play a great style of rugby and that's why they do so well. They're clinical and they finish off tries in the big games. We've been enough of those big games now and we need to learn to finish what we start."

They will do so with the assistance of Rory Best, whose defiance of science continues apace as he recovers from injury, yet again ahead of schedule, to marshal a pack that will also welcome back flankers Roger Wilson (thumb) and Robbie Diack (knee).

Ruan Pienaar (shoulder) may also join the ranks of the resuscitated; Dan Tuohy (hand) should be fine.

However, Nick Williams, who got into a bit of bother with his employers for going AWOL a while back, will not be going anywhere in the near future as the leg injury sustained in Limerick last Saturday has ended his season.

Ulster – and Jackson – will want theirs to extend beyond this Saturday night. Jackson wants a front seat, not a couch.

Irish Independent

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