Paddy Jackson makes impression on Perpignan debut after 14 months out of the game
Paddy Jackson produced a strong debut performance for Perpignan as his rugby exile came to an end over a year since he last played.
Jackson, who played the opening half of their pre-season clash with Toulouse at Stade Aime Giral before Perpignan changed their entire team at the interval, showed few signs of being out of action since winning his 25th cap for Ireland against Japan in June last year.
The 26-year old was handed a difficult opening conversion after eight minutes when Australian Zack Holmes scored in the right corner but Jackson landed the kick and grew in confidence after that.
He converted all three opening half tries for a 21-7 interval, kicking another difficult effort from the left wing before being presented with one close to the posts.
Jackson is seen as the key signing by Perpignan as they return to the Top 14 following their first ever relegation four seasons ago and he was given a warm welcome by the locals in a crowd of around 7,500.
Jackson’s performance wasn’t flawless, overcooking one kick on the right but his penalty touch-finders were ambitious and accurate and the crowd were quick to get behind him.
Jackson will get another runout next week against former Ireland colleagues Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan visit Stade Aime Giral before Perpignan open their Top 14 schedule at home to Paul O’Connell’s Stade Francais in two weeks.
Jackson’s kicking performance will be key to Perpignan’s hopes of survival in the top flight and they have already being installed as one of the relegation favourites with a €16m budget which, for example, is half what Toulouse have spent for the new season.
But if Jackson grows into his new role, the fanatical Perpignan followers, most of whom are unaware or indifferent to the Belfast trial earlier this year, will be quick to bestow hero status on him.
As introductions go, his 40-minute cameo last night on a surface which was greasy from an afternoon of biblical thunderstorms, could hardly have gone much better.
The result was immaterial with both sides using their full extended squads, but for the record Perpignan held on to win 21-20.