Monday 23 October 2017

Tony Ward: Kidney must stick to his guns and re-select Jackson

In picking Paddy Jackson ahead of Ronan O'Gara to face the Scots, Declan Kidney made a decision that not too many others in his position would have made. The obvious option in covering his tail would have been to stay with the devil he knew.

In his scrap for survival, sticking with his 127-times-capped goalkicking banker seemed all but assured.

Instead, Kidney chose to give youth its fling and select Jackson. It was brave move, a bold move but always one laden with danger. Once Jonny Sexton was ruled out, it was a case of out-of-sorts experience versus youthful exuberance and potential.

All very well in a touring scenario perhaps, but mid-Six Nations with a decimated squad on the back of defeat to England and on foreign soil, it was an accident waiting to happen.

That the young Ulster out-half missed three kicks from four was a contributory factor to Ireland's defeat but certainly not the only reason we lost a game we should have won – and won with quite a bit to spare.


In boxing terms, we contributed everything bar the knockout. The Scots finished punch-drunk but amazingly were four points ahead on the scoreboard.

The gamble backfired, with the head coach's position now on the line. But I admire the man for having the bottle – and honesty – to go with Jackson.

But where does Jackson stand now? For me, the re-selection of the Ulster man should be automatic for the game against France in a fortnight's time.

There is only one way he will learn and become another Sexton or O'Gara and that is through game time at the highest level.

Apart from one early spill allied to the three missed kicks at goal, Jackson had a maiden run of which he should be proud. For the best part of an hour he looked the part, and I am convinced that with more experience, he will grow into a more assertive, string-pulling No 10.

Top-quality No 10s take time to mature. Despite the defeat and the disappointing nature of it, there was enough in Jackson's demeanour and body language to suggest that he deserves a run through to the end of this Six Nations campaign and after that on the three-Test tour to the US and Canada. Let's see where it leads.

Whoever takes the flak for this loss to a poor Scottish side, it must not be the debutant No 10.

Despite dominating the first half, at just three points to the good at the interval we knew we were vulnerable. The scrum was under severe pressure, the line-out ropey and our finishing anything but clinical. Failure to translate territory into points was bound to come back and bite us.

On the plus side, once we managed to get possession, we were patient and measured. The game is so much easier to play with the ball than without. The strategy of consistently changing the point of attack on the switch and getting in behind the attempted blitz defence at least created try-scoring opportunities. The frustration was in not finishing them.

In individual terms, Sean O'Brien was again immense. So too was Peter O'Mahony.

Luke Marshall, like Jackson, has much to learn but he too deserves re-selection to face the French midfield hulks, irrespective of who is available after injury. The young Ulster package at 10 and 12 must be retained.

But this really was one that got away. It's one thing losing to an English side adapting tactics to suit conditions, but the Scots, despite putting together back-to-back championship wins for the first time in 12 years, were frankly awful.

That is the bottom line. We lost a game we should have won to a poor side playing badly.

However, it is essential that our failures yesterday be addressed quickly. Goalkicking is one.

In order to be given a fighting chance, Jackson must now become Ulster's front-line goalkicker irrespective of Ruan Pienaar's presence in the side.

If that directive is to come from Lansdowne Road, then so be it. Jackson stood up to the challenge bar where we all feared he might fall short. That can be addressed, for successful goal kicks still win matches.

And lest we forget, the final stat of consequence yesterday: Greig Laidlaw four penalties, Ireland 8 – on 71pc possession and 77pc territory. How damning is that?

Irish Independent

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