Kidney makes the case for Jackson
Craig Gilroy barges over the line to score the only try of the Six Nations game between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield yesterday. Gilroy could have another try but Luke Marshall's pass couldn't find him. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Injury to Jonathan Sexton and concerns over Ronan O’Gara’s ability to still perform in the Test arena contributed, but the fear that Paddy Jackson might fail to kick the lights out was flagged well in advance of yesterday’s 25 per cent return.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney chose to ignore the signs. And there were plenty. Jackson is still only 21 years old. He was fast-tracked into the Ulster squad by former coach Brian McLaughlin last season and it back-fired horribly in the Heineken Cup final against Leinster. He has started just 22 matches for his province.
Jackson has recently struggled with an ankle injury. Last weekend against Zebre he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to kick for goal. He came into his first Six Nations match cold. A one from four kicking return was the result.
Kidney made his mind up about Jackson over 12 months ago, including him in Ireland training camps at Carton House, at the same time overlooking Ian Madigan despite the 23-year-old’s superior conversion rate in the Pro 12. Returning to O’Gara for France doesn’t appear a comfortable option either.
The concern now is that Kidney’s decision to promote Jackson may be damaging the player’s long-term development.
“I thought his general play was very good,” said Kidney. “He helped to get us a few lines breaks, I thought his kicks down the line off penalties put us in good field positions and he had the courage to go for those, which is a good thing.” Kidney then described the place-kicking duties of an international outhalf as “a second job”.
“A second job which he does would be place-kicking, didn’t go the way he would have liked or any of us would have liked. You are going to have days like that. They weren’t the easiest of kicks but I think it is just too easy to point to that.” There is no questioning Jackson’s play-making abilities as cleverly disguised passes put Keith Earls and fellow debutant Luke Marshall into open country.
“He took the ball to the line brilliantly and it was very easy to play off him,” said Marshall. “He’s rock solid in defence and he had a great turnover in the first half as well. He can be proud of himself. He’s 21 years old. He can only get better. He is a good place-kicker.
“Playing in front of a big crowd with all that pressure might have got to him a little bit. That’s something he’ll work on. The fact he was controlling the game is a far bigger plus going forward.
“It’s probably the biggest game he’s played in, pressure-wise and atmosphere-wise. That’s more to do with it than anything. He missed a couple of kicks but if I had passed to Craig we would have won anyway. You can’t go blaming him.”
Marshall was referring to his second line break – Earls blew another try-scoring chance by ignoring Brian O’Driscoll’s inside line and attempting to outpace Stuart Hogg, only to be caught by Sean Maitland (O’Driscoll was livid) – when he ruined a certain try by failing to find Craig Gilroy.
“I saw a guy chasing Craig and I wanted to put it in front of him, I just put it too far in front of him. It was a bad opportunity to waste, we should have definitely scored from it.” These moments along with Jackson’s missed penalties and O’Gara’s late brain freeze ruined any chance of Ireland winning.
Even at the death, O’Gara’s left to right pass went beyond Marshall’s grasp.
“It was just a wee bit too flat. I maybe should have called him to hit me deeper, wet day, one of those things. They had no line breaks, we had three or four. The game was there for the taking.”