Paul Wallace has urged Paddy Jackson to seize the initiative this season and make a statement to Joe Schmidt ahead of next year's World Cup.
As official confirmation came through yesterday that Jonathan Sexton will rejoin Leinster next season, many supporters will have been wondering what was going through the minds of Jackson and Ian Madigan.
The signing of Ian Humphreys will put pressure on Jackson at Ulster while the option of shifting Ruan Pienaar to out-half is something that the province aren’t afraid to do.
But Wallace believes that Jackson must develop consistency in his game to silence his critics.
“It’s a big season for Paddy Jackson. He came on a lot last year and played some outstanding games but then he did fall down in a few as well,” Wallace said.
“It’s about trying to get that consistency but every number 10 goes through that,” he added, speaking as a Sky Sports analyst.
“People always forget the early years and the errors that came with that. Johnny Sexton used to be criticised for his game management because he’d misjudge one kick.
“These guys all learn that. It’s a very pressurised position and I think he’ll be back physically bigger and stronger.
“He’s not a big man but he’ll grow into it and that’s just as important in the modern game. Every number 10 has to be physical as well.”
With Pienaar acting as Ulster’s playmaker in recent seasons, Wallace wants to see Jackson shouldering some of that responsibility as the province looks to end its barren run without a trophy.
“I think one of the issues when you play with Ruan Pienaar at nine, it’s a bit like Yachvili at Biarritz, if your playmaker is a nine, you get a very limited view of controlling the game so you miss opportunities to go wide.
“Jackson needs to become more of a controlling influence at 10. Everything should come from 10 rather than nine.
“In a tight, stormy night in Ravenhill that won’t work as well but when you get to the business end of the season on hard tracks, you’ve got to have the vision of what’s going on around you,” he added.
Ulster are facing the prospect of beginning their season without a full-time head coach as interim boss Les Kiss takes charge of his first competitive game.
But Wallace believes that the biggest loss to the northern province is the departure of tighthead prop John Afoa with the former All Black leaving to join Gloucester.
“There’s great experience in the squad. Okay, they’ve failed in the really big games a bit and that’s why they don’t have the silverware as a reward for their efforts.
“But Afoa is missing now. He’s a huge loss. Everyone is quick to go on about Payne, Pienaar and Bowe but it’s the platform up front that’s crucial.
“Even in the big games, Afoa always came out on top. He’s a class act and is probably the biggest loss to the Pro12 that I’ve seen in the off-season.”