Paddy Jackson has no doubt but that his Ulster colleague Tommy Bowe will rebound towards his best form in time for Ireland’s assault on the Rugby World Cup.
Bowe has long held prime status on Ireland’s wing, putting together a hugely impressive portfolio of work with his country and the British and Irish Lions with a total of 28 tries claimed in his 63 caps earned between the two to date.
Injury has been far too familiar a companion in recent years, however, and some less than exhilarating recent form was franked last Saturday when the 31-year old looked lethargic and far from solid in defence against England in Twickenham. This isn’t the time to be displaying such frailties and especially not with Keith Earls, Dave Kearney, Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald all offering Joe Schmidt other options on the two wings ahead of the team’s tournament opener against Canada in Cardiff on Saturday week.
“He was disappointed with the game last week, as were a few of the guys,” said Jackson who was among the eight squad members not involved in the matchday squad of 23 in what was the last of Ireland’s four warm-up fixtures.
“He hasn’t had too many games like that for Ireland and I haven’t seen him play too many like that for Ulster. It’s Tommy Bowe, he is a British and Irish Lion. He’s got a number of caps for Ireland and he will bounce back strong. He is experienced enough to deal with it.”
Bowe may be fighting to keep himself in the team for the games that matter most during the tournament, but Jackson faces a battle simply to bank any significant game time, given Jonathan Sexton’s secured status at 10 and Ian Madigan’s versatility and the boon that brings to the bench.
At this remove, it would appear likely that Jackson’s most likely outing will come against Romania in the side’s second game, though he is refusing to contemplate whats and ifs, among them how Madigan being back-up to Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan at nine may affect his chances.
“With the three of us we are all focusing on 10,” he said after yesterday’s open session at the RDS. “With Murray and Redser in, there it is a lot of experience and, to be honest, I am just focusing on a lot of my own stuff.”
That focus is total, even to the inclusion of his beloved Northern Ireland team whose vital European Championship qualifier draw with Hungary at Windsor Park on Monday evening he missed as a result of his duties with Joe Schmidt’s squad.
Those duties have revolved mainly around the training paddock since the 80 minutes he was allowed in the opening tune-up against Wales almost four weeks ago. Just 18 minutes have been added to his CV in the three games since.
It may be that he can take comfort in the fact that his hand was on the tiller the one time Ireland hit anything like their straps, against the Welsh in Cardiff, but the paucity of the team’s attacking threat in recent weeks must be a concern for all. “I don’t think two defeats will tarnish our attacking threat,” said Jackson. “Ireland have been very successful in the last two years. We got to second in the world and now we’ve dropped a bit, but, we’re in a good place going into the World Cup.”
Seeing Canada lose 47-18 to Fiji in The Stoop over the weekend came as better news for an Irish side comfortably beaten by England a few hundred yards down the road, though the North Americans have used their lead-in games to give their entire squad some meaningful game time. “We’ve looked over a good few of the Canada games. We did a bit last night. I looked at the backs. They’ve got some strong runners, very physical and tenacious. In terms of defence and making your hits, it’s going to be key work-on for Canada.
“The first game of the World Cup, everyone is going to be so up for it, especially Canada. I don’t think many of them will have played in front of such a big crowd. That’s going to be a massive game for them. For us, it’s the World Cup. I don’t think anyone is going to be underestimating anyone.”
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