Paddy Jackson will be entrusted with the goal-kicking duties at the Aviva Stadium today despite speculation to the contrary.
Ronan O’Gara stated in his Irish Examiner column yesterday that he suspected the Ireland management would give Fergus McFadden the kicking duties.
“Paddy Jackson may not play against Australia, so this is a huge opportunity for him against Samoa, even if my gut says that Fergus McFadden will be handed the kicking duties,” he wrote.
However, assistant coach Les Kiss yesterday confirmed the decision and predicted Jackson would be able to steer Ireland to victory over Samoa from the kicking tee if necessary.
“I think that he’s done to ensure that not only his technique but that his mental space is in a good spot to be able to embrace that task and take it on,” Kiss said. “No-one is ever perfect. The one thing we’ve noticed is the hardiness of his mental approach, his dedication and commitment to improving his technique.”
Kiss also gave the seal of approval to Jackson’s potential as a play-maker and praised him for a number of top-class performances so far this season.
“I think it’s testament to Paddy that he’s really stuck to his guns and worked hard and, as he says, he’s becoming more comfortable with what the demands are at this next level. We have full confidence that he’ll do the job for us.”
Jackson received further endorsement from his Ulster colleague Rory Best.
“I think the way Paddy has played this season he’s obviously put in a lot of work over the summer. A lot of it is very much unseen, but when the rest of us are leaving training he’s still out kicking.
“He’s kicked very well but that’s probably a bit of a sideshow for us because what’s really impressed us has been his game management, especially away in Montpellier and Leicester at home. We have a lot of confidence in him and he’s done it fairly tough. He’s come straight from school into being our number one 10.”
Jackson is remaining calm. His focus is on understanding the type of game Joe Schmidt is introducing.
“I have the clarity and know the patterns; I know what Joe wants so I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning as much as I can from him. With him, it’s very much the little things that build up. It’s been brilliant, he’s a real perfectionist. You know exactly what he wants and it brings that clarity to the whole squad, they know what he wants so everyone is on the same page.”
Looking for perfection, Jackson revealed Schmidt picks up on the little things that happen in training although it’s not a master-pupil thing.
“It’s not like schoolboy rugby. He’s not going to shout at you. But he doesn’t miss anything and he knows if you’re doing your job. It lifts the standards in training.”
Jackson admitted he was in awe of some of the Irish senior players when he first went into camp last year, but now feels comfortable.
“When I first came in, it was kind of cool seeing all these players and being with them. But now it’s like being home, the more I play with them, the more comfortable I feel. It’s something I enjoy, leading the attack and leading the team. Once you get on the pitch, you have to turn into a different person though. It’s like having a difficult personality.”
Experience has taught him to cope with mistakes and with the weight of expectation from thousands of fans.
“You get used to it,” he said, “although it is hard to deal with sometimes. You have family and friends to help out. But I can’t do much about changing people’s minds. I have to focus on my own game, shut out things and have confidence in myself.
“It’s just experience. I’m feeling very comfortable the way I’m playing now. I try to focus on the next play, not the result or what people are thinking of you, or the crowd, or anything like that.”
Inside and outside, Jackson is grateful for the depth of experience he can call upon if things get tough.
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