Paddy Jackson targets final-day triumph

Their chances of a Guinness Pro12 home semi-final have receded since drawing with Munster last Saturday but Paddy Jackson insists Ulster will go to Glasgow Warriors this weekend with only victory in mind.

Paddy Jackson targets final-day triumph

Out-half Jackson, taking over the kicking duties from Ruan Pienaar for the first time since January, salvaged two points for his province at Ravenhill with the last kick of the game, a difficult, pressure-laden effort from wide on the left to convert Paul Marshall’s 81st-minute try.

Yet the draw means Ulster trail Ospreys, Glasgow and Munster, all level on 70 points, by a single point heading into this Saturday’s final round of regular season matches.

Having to travel to Scotstoun to take on fellow top-four side Glasgow on their own patch makes Ulster’s objective of a top-two finish that will bring a home semi the following week all the more difficult but Jackson believes the northerners can at least emerge victorious.

“Definitely,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about. Win, lose or draw (against Munster) we were going to have to go to Glasgow anyway. We’re going there to win.”

Jackson does not know whether he will retain responsibility for goal-kicking in Glasgow or if South African scrum-half Pienaar will be given the role but the out-half will go to Scotland confident in his kicking game after a perfect return of five from five attempts against Munster.

“It was a great day for kicking. Myself and Keats (Ian Keatley) both kicked well, and I’m glad to get back kicking. I was pretty nervous before the game but once I kicked well in the warm-up and once I got my first kick in the game I felt good. I hope (to kick against Glasgow), obviously we’ll have to see how it goes but I love to be kicking coming into these big games. As an out-half and as a player you want to be in these positions where you’re trying to win a game. You want to be kicking. So we’ll have to see and I’ll speak with Ruan.”

Jackson’s return from a shoulder injury in late January saw him overlooked by Ireland for the ultimately successful Six Nations campaign as Munster’s Ian Keatley started the opening game against Italy before first-choice Johnny Sexton returned from his concussion-related leave of absence with Leinster’s Ian Madigan providing cover throughout.

Yet his performance last weekend as playmaker in a pulsating game in which Ulster played the more adventurous rugby was a more than gentle reminder to the watching Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt that Jackson is in the sort of form that would make it difficult to ignore the 23-year-old for World Cup squad selection.

“I have been happy with how I’ve been playing. I don’t think things were running as smoothly as they have been in the last few games. I was pretty annoyed with that pass which didn’t leave enough air for Jared. But if keep this form up I should be able to be there or thereabouts.

“I’m just desperate to try and win something here and we’ve another big game next week against Glasgow.”

Jackson said Ulster rued three missing gilt-edged try-scoring opportunities in the first-half against Munster but the potential loss of Iain Henderson for the rest of the season if the province fails in its appeal to overturn the red card the Ireland forward received could be even more devastating to their hopes of league success.

The back-rower was dismissed by referee Nigel Owens after he was adjudged to have led with his head when clearing out Munster’s Ronan O’Mahony at a 72nd-minute ruck and now faces suspension.

“He’s a massive person, he’s massive on the pitch and you just see how physical he is,” Jackson said. “Having somebody like that ball carrying and hitting rucks, I hope he doesn’t miss the whole season.

“We were all in disbelief. I think he said he didn’t make contact with (O’Mahony) from the head and I think Nigel said ‘you can’t lead with your head’ but I can’t really see any other way of going into a ruck other than leading not head first, or going in upright. It’s just unfortunate for Iain and the way things are going it looks like he might miss the end of the season. But we’ll see what happens.”

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