Whatever happens at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium today, Ireland fly-half Paddy Jackson should leave South Africa feeling he has finally laid the foundations for a long and fruitful Test career.
“Coming into the first game I was probably the most nervous I’ve been so we can all look at how well we played in that first game and the first half of the second game and we can take confidence from that and know that if we show up and do what we’ve been doing in training, play how we know we can play we can really put them to the sword.”
Confidence is clearly a significant element of Jackson’s progression through his early 20s and he needed every ounce of it to settle the nerves, step up to the plate in Johnny Sexton’s absence and guide his team around Newlands.
“There was obviously a bit of pressure and then there was a bit of expectation. I felt I had to prove myself to the guys and prove that I can step up to this level and earn their respect. (In the second test) there was a lot I did well but a few mistakes as well so those are things I want to rectify. This team, we’ve all come together kind of last minute and guys haven’t played together but we’ve got a really good bond. It’s just an opportunity we really don’t want to let slip.”
Today will see Jackson earn his 15th Test cap in a backline alongside Ulster midfield team-mates Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall, and feeling he has come a long way not just over the three years it took him to earn those appearances but in the amount he has learned on this tour alone.
“I’m a lot more relaxed on the pitch. I take charge a bit more. I back my calls. I don’t second guess myself too much. And (goal) kicking has been a big one. This is the first season I’ve had the kicking tee for the whole season. So I’m feeling good but I’ve still so much to learn. I’m just looking forward to getting more chances in the 10 jersey with Ireland. I know from the last two Tests that certain things you would have got away with in the Pro 12, you wouldn’t at this level. So from that point of view I’m definitely still learning.
“I feel like the lads have really backed me and the coaches. It’s something I’ve been waiting for and I’ve really relished it and enjoyed being in that key position and being in charge.
“That’s what I want to do. I’m in that position back home with Ulster and I’ve loved it this season and I think I’ve kind of brought that in here and once you get the backing of the lads it helps so much.
“I’ve learnt so much and I think that final step is something I want to take and definitely the team wants to take.”
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