Saturday 17 March 2018

Jackson hoping his extra game time can push him above Madigan in Irish pecking order

Paddy Jackson
Paddy Jackson
Conor George

Conor George

DAVID HUMPHREYS' visits to Ulster's training sessions are rare but memorable, according to Paddy Jackson.

Ulster's director of rugby is too busy at boardroom level these days to don a tracksuit and give a master-class in out-half play – "I've flicked through some of his clips on YouTube and it's good stuff" – but he is generous with his advice when he gets the time.

"Mark (Anscombe) has said to me to try and learn what I can off Humphs, and I do a bit, but he is very busy. I am trying to learn what I can from different people.

"This week, for example, I get to see Jonny Sexton running about and it's impressive how he dictates things," said Jackson.

Humphreys retired from international rugby with 72 Ireland caps and 560 points to his credit. His days wearing football boots and training gear are past but, as Jackson attests, he still has the ability to inspire and impress.

"Every so often he'll come down to the training pitch and rip off a beautiful spiral kick wearing his normal shoes!

"That's impressive."

Despite being first choice for Ulster, Jackson is just 21 years of age and still learning his craft.

He started Ireland's last three Six Nations championship games last season but was usurped by Leinster's Ian Madigan for Ireland's summer tour when he was confined to just 20 minutes off the bench against Canada.

He doesn't know where he is in the pecking order at the moment but Ireland coach Joe Schmidt's suggestion that players will be assessed by dint of their game time for their provinces this season should work in Jackson's favour.

Johnny Sexton is the undisputed first choice but Jackson has played far more than Madigan so far this season.

"It's a tough one," he agreed. "I felt I was behind Ian at the end of last season, he had a great season last year, but now he hasn't really played much rugby over the last few weeks.

"There must be a bit of an advantage due to me playing more games but I can't really presume anything. I'm just trying to impress Joe out on the training pitch because Ian is obviously going to try to do the same.

"It's a case of seeing what happens over the next two weeks."

Jackson has taken a big step forward in his game this season.

He is far more composed and effective from the kicking tee but he does admit to experiencing some frustration when kicking duties are taken from him with Ulster.

He's now more used to seeing Ruan Pienaar handed the kicking duties – "when it first happened I tried to overdo things but it is something I've gotten used to" – but insists he is currently happy with that facet of his game.

"The first few games this season I just decided I was kicking and I was kicking well. I think I was maybe 13 of 14.

"Ruan's got a longer kick than me – darn those long legs! – so if we needed those from further out then he took them.

"I missed a few last weekend but I'm feeling confident in my kicking at the moment so I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be kicking."

With his kicking yips from last season hopefully well and truly behind him, Jackson is keen to move on to the next evolution of his career and is looking forward to working with Schmidt.

"He's very big on the little details. I'm looking for little improvements all the time, so I'm really excited to learn from Joe, and bring my game on. I'm really keen to develop," he added.

Irish Independent

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