Tuesday 23 October 2018

Sinead Kissane: Jackson needs to stop relying on others' misfortune and really own No 10 jersey

Sexton's injury profile means we can no longer view Ulster out-half as a back-up plan - he must assert his authority

Paddy Jackson during Ireland squad training Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Paddy Jackson during Ireland squad training Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Paddy Jackson's eyes are darting around the room at Carton House as he listens to the Ireland head coach defend his decision to name him at out-half for the Six Nations game against Scotland at Murrayfield.

It's Wednesday, February 20 2013, four days before the match. Lions out-half in waiting Johnny Sexton is injured and Declan Kidney has decided to pitch Jackson into the team and bench Ronan O'Gara. This despite the fact that Jackson doesn't have the kicking responsibilities with Ulster - Ruan Pienaar has.

Also, Jackson has ankle problems which have prevented him from practising fully.

Yet here Jackson is, sitting at the top table at the Ireland team announcement looking as surprised as anyone else that he's here.

It's a loaded top table: to Jackson's left is Kidney, who is sitting beside captain Jamie Heaslip, who is sitting beside another debutant, Luke Marshall.

It's hard to know if Jackson is actually listening to any of the questions being asked of Kidney. He's using that tactic Rory McIlroy would go on to employ as he keeps his eye-line just above the heads of the assembled crowd.

"Declan was this the biggest call of your career?"

"Obviously Paddy's inclusion was a challenge given the stature of Ronan O'Gara being there too," Kidney replies. "I just feel that Paddy deserves a go this week."

His inclusion has just been called "a challenge" but Jackson doesn't blink. Maybe he's tuning out. A few months previously, a video of him lip-synching The JCB song hit the Internet.

'Said, I'm Luke, I'm five and my dad's Bruce Lee, drives me around in his JCB'

"Will you be singing the JCB song as your debutant song after the match, Paddy?"

"I've put more thought into what song I'm going to sing then the actual game at the moment," Jackson smiles.

On his call-up: "Yeah I was very surprised and a bit of butterflies in the stomach. I trust everyone around me. Hopefully they trust me too."

As O'Gara would later say in his autobiography, "it wasn't Jackson's fault that he was selected."

Paul O'Connell described Ireland's celebrations at Murrayfield when they won the 2015 Six Nations as being like Robbie Henshaw's 21st birthday.

Well, Jackson (pictured) was only 21 when he made his Ireland debut on the same pitch two years previously in a game which would be O'Gara's last for Ireland. From start to finish that match was reduced to between-the-fingers viewing as Ireland lost to Scotland.

Jackson would go on to start the next two games - the draw against France and the defeat to Italy. That game in Rome would be his last time starting a Six Nations game.

Until today.

Because he started playing Test rugby relatively young (Sexton, for example, was 24 when he made his Ireland debut), Jackson has had to do his growing up in public.

'If you're good enough, you're old enough' shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all excuse to throw a kid into a Test game if he's not quite ready.

Up until last summer, Jackson's time with Ireland had been frustratingly inconsistent. In the 2014 Six Nations, he was on the bench for the first four games before being replaced by Ian Madigan for the Championship-winning game in Paris.

He missed the title defence in 2015 because of injury. He played only 20 minutes of the 2015 World Cup, off the bench in the pool game against Romania.

He wasn't named in any of the match-day squads in last year's Six Nations despite showing good form for Ulster and became a cause celebre for the media especially when he was left out of the squad for the second-last game against Italy which seemed tailor-made to give others a go.

Jackson's Ireland career has always been on other players' terms or because of other players' injury misfortunes.

He seemed to be caught in the cross-fire when Kidney decided to start him rather than O'Gara in 2013.

It was only when Madigan decided to move to France that Jackson moved up Schmidt's pecking order. But he still looked like a ready-made Test out-half when he piloted Ireland to a first-ever win in South Africa last summer.

Despite Joey Carbery's impressive cameo off the bench in the win over New Zealand in Chicago, Schmidt backed Jackson as back-up 10 in November - the Ulsterman started the wins over Canada and Australia and replaced Sexton in the first half of the defeat to New Zealand.

Because of Sexton's injury profile, Jackson can no longer be viewed as just the back-up plan.

He needs to start trying to own the No 10 jersey. It's fitting that the out-half position is 10, because this position, like no other, is constantly rated against perfection and against others who have worn it before him.

Rory Best said at Murrayfield yesterday that Jackson has the backing of the team. Sexton might be the Special One. But Jackson, for now, is the Chosen One.

Irish Independent

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