Jackson ready to stand up to the pressure
Paddy Jackson and Declan Kidney share a joke during training this week. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Part of the look on Irish manager Mick Kearney’s face was revelling in the final episode of this week’s slow-burning serial. Paddy Jackson and his kicking has been a comic strip of a story, not quite Boys Own heroics but with its own compelling narrative and a hamstring twist.
It has been a tortuous week of heavily-weighted questions on a wide range of competency issues dropped on Declan Kidney, Kearney and, not least of all, the 21-year-old Ulsterman.
Jackson took his kicks on Wednesday under the guidance of coach Mark Tainton and his hamstring held up.
He rocked up in the Aviva with Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden, a well-loaded squad in the boot department, then passed yesterday’s training session without issue.
The triumph of the first half of the week has been modest and well met. Jackson is on the pitch and will start with Madigan on the bench alongside uncapped prop Stephen Archer who is preferred as back-up to Michael Bent.
All there is now is France. Jackson can look forward to being the centre of attention there.
As a backrow, Peter O’Mahony has spent a career hunting down vulnerable backs. That France will look at a 21-year-old outhalf with just one cap and see it as an Irish weakness is almost accepted wisdom.
“Of course they might,” says O’Mahony. “It would be silly of them not to.
“But we’ll be looking at all of their players in the same way, trying to break them down. This is his second cap but we can’t do anything about that, we just have to look after ourselves at the moment.”
O’Mahony is loath to talk around what the French may or may not think about Jackson. However if the boot was on the other foot and the French 10 was callow at international level, he would present an equally mouth-watering target for Ireland.
“Obviously you would have a game plan around it and you’d be running down his channel and all these things,” adds O’Mahony with obvious reluctance.
“But I keep saying he is well able to tackle, well able to look after himself and he has Lukie (Marshall) outside him there – he’s 100 kilos, a big lump of a young fellah.
“The backrow will be looking after him, the pack will be there so he doesn’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, he just needs to back himself.”
Few second caps arrive with such a payload. While the Irish squad will have laboured all week to buttress Jackson and remind him of the reasons that he was picked by Kidney, there will have been few matches ever played in the Aviva where the first kick will be seen as such a weather vane.