Ulster back Paddy Jackson once again
Johann Muller tips 21-year old to become a ‘world class’ outhalf
Ulster’s Johann Muller celebrates with Paddy Jackson after the game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The leaders within Ulster rugby remain convinced this will be remembered as the season that made Paddy Jackson.
Still, when the incumbent Ireland outhalf is relieved of place-kicking duties by Ulster coach Mark Anscombe, his story will inevitably bob back to the surface.
Jackson’s role in the Irish pecking order also gets magnified the more Ian Madigan continues on a kicking streak that is currently at 14 successful shots over two matches. Madigan has an 85.48 percent success rate in this season’s Rabo Pro 12 to Jackson’s 69.39 percent.
However, the head-to-head between rivals for the jersey on the North American tour in June failed to materialise during last Saturday’s 22-18 victory for Ulster at the RDS. As Madigan landed all Leinster’s points, Ruan Pienaar took back the kicking duties from Jackson despite concerns about the Springbok scrumhalf’s ankle.
Madigan currently lies fourth on the Pro 12 golden boot list with 53 from 62 attempts, while Jackson is 19th with 34 from 49 attempts, having missed his last four kicks.
The only other player with 60-plus shots at goal is Ospreys and Wales outhalf Dan Biggar, who lies 15th with a success rate of 74.5 percent or 47 from 63 attempts.
The Jackson versus Madigan statistics reflect more on Ireland’s selection policy than the 21-year-old former Methody schoolboy. Certainly, his support from within the Ulster camp remains unwavering.
“He is still the same person for me but he has changed a hell of a lot as a player,” said captain Johann Muller. “Basically, I run in front of him and that is about it; Paddy runs this team. He is an outstanding leader and he has put in a huge amount of work week in and week out, analysing videos making sure the calling system is in place.
“From a captain’s point of view it is the greatest thing in the world that you can run out there and you have got 100 per cent confidence in this guy ability wise and also running the team with you. Because nines and tens basically run your team and he has done an absolutely brilliant job.
“You know, we get emails very Tuesday night from Paddy telling us exactly what the calls are and where we will be doing what on the field. That takes a special person.
“He has been knocked down so many times but he gets up better and better every single time. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him, I think in time he is going to become a world class player if he keeps his head down and keeps on working hard like he does.”
Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe knows plenty about the struggle a young outhalf must face. His 21-year-old son Gareth was the leading point scorer in last season’s ITM Cup for Auckland, having also topped the charts at the 2011 IRB Junior World Cup. Despite this, Anscombe was cut by the Auckland Blues for 2013.
Picked up by the Chiefs, and deployed at fullback, his near flawless kicking return in the opening rounds of Super Rugby has seen shadow All Black outhalf Aaron Cruden relieved of the job.
“A key thing with tens that you have got to realise is it is not just about the calls he does,” said Anscombe. “Paddy is relying on people giving him help and feedback as well. The outside backs have got to let him see what is happening and sometimes a young ten can get hung out to dry by people around him. We have got Darren Cave and others who are very good at it.
“He is a tough little character, he has been beaten up at times by people in the media but he bounces back and the fact is in all this, he is still the same person and he is still the same footballer we think he is, he can play at the top.”