Jackson backs up strong words with powerful actions

It’s a fortnight since Paddy Jackson sat in an ornate room with a bunch of hacks and laid bare his determination to be The Man when it came to the clutch business of splitting the posts from the tee.

Young-looking enough to get away with wearing a school blazer and polite enough to be brought home to meet the mother on Debs’ night he may be, but there was a steeliness to his words that day in Carton House that caught everyone’s attention.

His frustrations were borne of the day job in Belfast where Ruan Pienaar has so often been entrusted with the extras, but it is an issue that has arguably had more airtime when it comes to his Test career.

Rewind eight months to his international debut at Murrayfield and it is still the botched attempts on goal rather than the sublime handling skills and awareness that engineered line breaks for Luke Marshall that demand the attention.

Yet Jonathan Sexton’s punishing workload in France and the hip problem he first felt in kicking practise in Dublin last Wednesday week afforded Jackson the opportunity to live up to those words two days ago and he did just that.

One errant kick at the posts after Ireland’s fifth try aside, Jackson was superb off the tee, succeeding with six of his eight attempts — even if some were gimmies — and sending his first miss only a fraction to the left from wide out on the touchline.

His sense of timing was just as impressive.

Sexton’s in-tray has been impossibly loaded thanks in part to the litany of injuries suffered by his out-half colleagues at Racing Metro, but the punishing schedule will remain to some uncomfortable degree for the duration of his time in Paris.

Even the IRFU’s vaunted player management programme wasn’t able to prevent him missing out on the majority of the Six Nations last term when he was still at Leinster so Jackson’s input against Samoa offered critical reassurance.

Fergus McFadden said: “There have been question marks over his place-kicking at Test level and I think he put those questions to bed, particularly with [one] long-range one.

“He controlled the game well and played well and, thankfully, it is a position where we do actually have some strength in depth now whereas in the past there was only ROG and then potentially there was only Jonny.

“Now we have the two lads [Jackson and Ian Madigan] putting pressure on Jonny, which is great, and I’m sure Jonny was looking at the TV disappointed that he wasn’t playing but him coming in next week adds to the competition as well.”

Jackson’s was in many ways an all-round, though far from perfect, performance. Take his place-kicking out of it and you were still left with a young 10 who executed his tackles superbly and one who looked assured with ball in hand.

Perhaps the most significant moment in the game was the moment 10 minutes from time when Madigan ran on to the field for a belated cameo only for Brian O’Driscoll rather than Jackson to trot off in the opposite direction.

Madigan was in the box seat for the first lieutenant role after his pair of starts in North America during the summer, but his supplanting by Jimmy Gopperth at Leinster and Jackson’s form for Ulster have turned those tables for now.

Schmidt’s take on the Ulsterman made for interesting conversation, with the Ireland coach managing to maintain a balancing act of praise on one hand and pause for thought in the other.

The Kiwi pointed out that some of Jackson’s — and his team-mates’ — kicking from the hand will need to be brushed up before Israel Folau and Adam Ashley Cooper come to town next weekend.

Ultimately, though, his satisfaction was impossible to hide.

“I would have to take my hat off to Paddy Jackson. I think he has had to do it pretty tough at times — being thrown in as a very young man — and, you know, having to direct some very impressive men around the park.

“He said during the week about telling Paul O’Connell about where he needs to be and feeling a bit intimidated by that himself. You know, I feel the same intimidation too.”

This was big, then. For both of them.


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