Jackson holds the key to unleashing Ulster backs
ULSTER'S prospects of success this season are predicated upon the progress of fly-half Paddy Jackson.
Coach Mark Anscombe has chosen a fascinating centre pairing for tonight's season-opener against the Dragons, with Luke Marshall selected alongside Chris Farrell, who is hoping to put a season wrecked by injury behind him.
Marshall is one of the most exciting prospects in Irish rugby and has a long future in the centre ahead of him. If he can master the skills that go with the No 13 shirt, he will solve a continuing problem for Ireland – how to replace Brian O'Driscoll.
Ulster, above the other Irish provinces, are truly spoiled for choice in the centre, but it is at out-half where the real dilemma lies.
Paddy Jackson is a talented prospect. His game and composure has grown enormously since his implosion in the 2012 Heineken Cup final, but he has yet to prove he can become the dominant No 10 Ulster and Ireland need him to be.
Ulster are content to have him fill the conduit role outside their game-manager Ruan Pienaar, who is on international duty with South Africa.
If Jackson is to progress as a player and Ulster are to evolve, the 21-year-old needs to show he can be Ulster's playmaker. That starts tonight when he partners the more orthodox scrum-half Paul Marshall. If Jackson shows he has the skills and temperament necessary, he can entice the best from Ulster's bright and breezy three-quarters.
It is a very strong Ulster team with a special emphasis on the back and second rows. For their part, Dragons continue to integrate their new signings from last season with Richie Rees, T Rhys Thomas and Matthew Screech all starting.
DRAGONS – D Evans; T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; J Tovey, R Rees; A Coundley, T Rhys Thomas, D Way, M Screech, A Coombs, J Groves, N Cudd, L Evans. Subs: H Gustafson, P Price, F Chaparro, A Jones, N Talei, J Evans, K Burton, R Wardle.
ULSTER – J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, C Farrell, D McIlwaine; P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, R Lutton, J Muller, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson. Subs: N Annett, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, S Doyle, I Porter, J McKinney, D Cave.
Dragons v Ulster,
Live, BBC Red button, 7.15