'I've been waiting for this chance' - Paddy Jackson ready to step out of the shadows
Ireland out-half Paddy Jackson is confident he can step into Johnny Sexton’s place and lead Ireland to a historic win over South Africa on Saturday.
Joe Schmidt has chosen the 24-year-old Ulsterman to lead the backline for the first Test at Newlands this weekend in the absence of the Lions No 10 who will miss the tour after undergoing a shoulder operation last week.
This is Jackson’s first start since the first World Cup warm-up game against Wales last August and he didn’t see any action during the Six Nations, but Schmidt believes he has grown in stature with his province and is comfortable with what he can deliver in Cape Town.
And Jackson himself believes he can carry his Ulster form into what is arguably the biggest game of his career.
“I know I’m stepping into big shoes like Joe said and I think I’ve around long enough to know how things work and I’ve had a chance to step back and see how Joe and Johnny orchestrate things,” he said.
“I’ve been waiting for a chance and now I’ve got it. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s exciting times for me.
“I’m delighted to get the start. It’s been a while. Like I said, I’ve been waiting for this chance and I’m so grateful it’s come, it’s just a great opportunity.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to put on that green jersey so this is another chance for me and I’m just really looking forward to it.
“It’s all well having a decent season with the province, I think it’s a big step up so I will take confidence from that, but also there’s going to be nerves and excitement.
“It’s a new challenge and it’s international rugby now so it’s a completely different ball game. From that point of view, I’m looking forward to testing myself in that environment.”
Ireland have never beaten the Springboks in South Africa, but Jackson is not getting too hung up on that record.
“We’re aware of it, but at the same time, there’s a lot of guys here getting a chance and I think the opportunity to go up against the Springboks at home or away, it’s such a great opportunity,” he said.
“We’re aware of it, but I don’t think that will change the way we approach the game. We need to be physical, we need to be smart and I think that’s how we’re going to approach the game as a team.”
Schmidt has been impressed with how Jackson has gone about his business since the Six Nations.
“Paddy’s slotted in really well,” he said.
“I think that he’s bided his time, he’s been in camp a lot when Johnny’s been in camp so he’s seen Johnny kind of dictating the game, he’s has been the conductor of the orchestra and we’re confident that Paddy can step up and do a similar job.
“He’s got big boots to fill, but I think his feet will slot in quite nicely.”
Ireland team to face South Africa: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Robbie Henshaw, Luke Marshall, Keith Earls; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Iain Henderson, Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan, Craig Gilroy.