Outhalf eager to take his chance to run the show
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone . . . ,” goes the lament. In the Rose room it was difficult to know if the Irish team press conference was just that for the venerable Ronan O’Gara or a celebration of renewal. If rugby has the capacity to pause and allow tectonic plates to shift, yesterday was one of those moments.
One way or another Declan Kidney finally struck out. The alleged arch conservative completed his season of the long knife and by game three of this year’s championship has changed the face of the Irish rugby landscape.
O’Gara’s position of game manager, point kicker, cage rattler and imp slid from view and by Kidney’s side yesterday were two of the new wave, Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall, fresh faced and not appearing the least bit spooked. O’Gara was the first to shake Jackson’s hand.
“That was very nice of him. He didn’t have much to say,” said the 21-year-old. “He just said ‘well done, I’m happy for you’.”
Brian O’Driscoll went with dignity but with no burning love for the decision to make Jamie Heaslip captain. Now it has been made clear to O’Gara that his place as a shaper of games at international level is at very best under question.
With Heaslip the voice of the team, Jackson at outhalf and the richly-talented Marshall paired with O’Driscoll for the injured Gordon D’Arcy, Kidney has quietly accommodated significant change over the last month, albeit under injury duress.
With Paul O’Connell in rehabilitation the former Irish captain is the lone remnant of what used to be Irish rugby’s north, south, east and west.
“It would have been Ronan and (Jonny) Wilkinson (I watched) when I was a bit younger,” said Jackson with captain Jamie Heaslip chiming in “yeah, a year ago”.
Youthful and three months younger than England’s Owen Farrell, Jackson is self-contained. But there is an over riding and healthy ambition to his personality and the image of a green shirt with number 10 came quickly to him less than two weeks ago.
“I think it was probably when I was watching the game and saw Johnny (Sexton) go down,” he says. “I sort of sat up in my seat a little bit. I had a game for Ulster the next week and had to focus on that. But I knew the position was up for grabs.”
Despite South African Ruan Pienaar assuming the kicking role in Ulster last weekend Jackson is ready for it, ready to run the back line, to take the kicks in Murrayfield, ready too to shamelessly vy with Sexton on his return.