Give Paddy Jackson a break and he’ll take it
Ulster coach Anscome there to steer young outhalf through tough times
Good footballers bounce back, the weaker ones don’t. For Ulster coach Mark Anscombe it is about managing players like outhalf Paddy Jackson through the good and the bad times. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye.
Sometimes the impression given of Ulster, largely by the questions asked, is they are worthy but dull. Trouper professionals and ambitious, but buttoned up, altogether too northern.
The months at the beginning of this year were bitter sweet for Jackson, a breakthrough period that faltered over his kicking. It has returned, if not to haunt him again, then to arm a media that sometimes cruelly refuses to let him forget.
At 22 years old Jackson has already taken quite a beating. Under 60 per cent from the tee may not be up along side Dan Biggar or Johnny Sexton but Ulster coach Mark Anscombe feels his outhalf is being unfairly treated. Are we too quick to judge him?
“Yeah,” says Anscombe. “He got thrown into internationals because of opportunity. Was he ready? Maybe not. But he is a young man we all have a lot of confidence and faith in.
“Like in life, when you get thrown on to that big stage you are judged and we don’t look at the age of that person, we just look at what they do. Paddy has had his critics but he bounces back fairly well.”
In professional rugby that seems fair enough. Judging on performance requires a cold lack of attachment, although analysis is altogether different.
Anscombe a today is a soft shoulder. At odds with the finality of criticism based on percentages and knocking players back as soon as they step up is hardly conducive to progress a few days out from Ospreys in Liberty Stadium.
While Ruan Pienaar will return to Belfast after this weekend when the Springboks play their final match in the Rugby Championship, the pressure now is all Jackson’s.
“No, it’s not fair on a young guy,” reiterates Anscombe. “In team sports people have expectations. Success brings a higher expectation, so people aren’t very tolerant of their team not succeeding. They don’t want to hear talk of developing or a young guy growing.
“They want success and they want guys to hit the ground running. It’s a tough old world but that is part of the game. Everyone is a critic – and rightfully so. What we have to do is help people through the bad times.”
Anscombe’s son Gareth, an outhalf who played with New Zealand Under 20s and is with Super Rugby side Chiefs, has like Jackson, recently turned 22 years old. Despite compelling form in the 2012 ITM Cup, where his kicking helped previous club Auckland to the final, the Blues management were unmoved. After John Kirwan took over as coach, Anscombe was delisted and joined Chiefs.
“As a coach you have got to understand your players,” Anscombe senior says now. “They all have different personalities and handle things differently and you have to get a feel for that player and be able to support him through the good and bad.
“You can’t expect a young man just to have a smooth ride through his career. The media will be on your bandwagon.
“There are people who want your position and think they are better than you, so the game is physical and getting harder.
“Good footballers bounce back, the weaker ones don’t. For us it is about managing them through the good and bad times.”
Ulster’s dull but worthy criticism is credibly countered by the unearthing of the likes of Craig Gilroy, Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall. There’s Ian Henderson too. All are in their early 20s and have crept into national consciousness.
“It’s good for Ireland and for Ulster we have those calibre of players,” says Anscombe. “I am not harping back to it, but they have a bit to do on their game and we have to give them the right environment and challenge them to be better with decision-making and how they take responsibility for that.”
Ulster may need to win, win better and who knows what November will bring for Jackson?