Paddy Jackson: I like to get up at 3am and play music to Johnny Sexton!
Ulsterman vying with Ian Madigan to deputise for Sexton
Paddy Jackson doesn’t need any reminding of Ian Madigan’s versatility but rather than follow him down the same route, he is staying focused on pushing Johnny Sexton for his starting place.
In the past, Joe Schmidt has often selected Madigan ahead of Jackson as Sexton’s backup but the Ulster player believes that he has just as much to offer by specialising in the one position.
There had been suggestions that Schmidt may look at Madigan as an option at scrum-half and although Les Kiss didn’t rule out the possibility, he revealed that the Leinster playmaker hadn’t trained there at all.
Jackson is likely to feature at some point against Wales on Saturday and although he was disappointed not to get more game time last time out against Scotland, he accepts that the Ireland coach has to be fair to every player.
“I think it’s (versatility) good for Ian to have. It means he has a better chance of being on the bench, having that utility and a bit of a wider range of positions,” Jackson admitted.
“For me it’s more about being specialised to 10. It can be a strength or a weakness. If I’m trying to make the squad, it could work against me but it’s out of my hands really.
“I just have to focus on playing 10, getting my roles right and trying manage the team around me.
"I'd say if I'm playing at the top of my game there's no reason why I wouldn't be on the bench or even getting in there on the team.
“Joe knows what he’s doing. He knows who he wants to play where and me saying that (I can play in other positions) to him won’t have much effect on him. I’m just enjoying where I am at the minute and focusing on my own position at out-half.”
Three missed kicks against Wales earlier in the month still irks Jackson but in his quest for perfection, he has spent hours on the training pitch, ensuring that he puts that right at the next given opportunity.
The three goal kickers work tirelessly together and often share tips but Jackson knows that come Sunday, each of their fate will be in Schmidt’s hands.
“Obviously there were a couple of missed kicks, which I wasn’t pleased with but since then I’ve worked really hard on my kicking. I’ve been out with Johnny (Sexton), Mads (Madigan) and Richie (Murphy).
“We’ve been working together for a few years now so we’re used to each other. Johnny is a legend and he’s always helping us.
“I like to try and build his confidence up and then sometimes during the night, I like to get up at three in the morning and play soothing music into his room to tell him I’m coming for him,” Jackson joked.
The limited game time has meant that there is an extra onus on fringe players to impress and although Jackson is likely to be named in the final 31-man squad along with Sexton and Madigan, he admitted that the mental strain over the last six weeks has often been quite tough.
“You just want to get out on the pitch. Even on the training pitch, it’s a very competitive environment, especially at this stage when you don’t know who’s going on the plane,” he said.
“It can be tough. You’re always thinking in your head ‘who is he going to bring? Who is going to be involved?’
"You have moments of doubt and then other moments you’re confident you could be going. It’s been an up and down last six or seven weeks. It’s about showing what you can do and if you get your chance, do it on the pitch.”
If he gets the chance on Saturday, Jackson will be out to ensure that he seals his place on the plane.