Paddy Jackson ready to put best foot forward as he leaves the bubble

Ireland outhalf unconcerned over side’s perceived loss of form ahead of World Cup

Paddy Jackson: taking a keen interest in Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Paddy Jackson: taking a keen interest in Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

The final hit out was with almost 2,000 fans waving and cheering from the main stand in the RDS. This last public training session saw Rob Kearney blaze up and down the sideline daring anyone to challenge his fitness. Conor Murray did the same but took in the bends as the rest of the Ireland squad stretched their legs in the midday sun.

It was a better mood than the fitful last two games and more buoyant than when the shroud fell over Ireland in the closing stages at Twickenham.

Johnny Sexton and Simon Zebo were running and kicking, confirming their problems against England were no more than cramp. Cian Healy was undertaking the more specialised torture of having to chase down the likes of Ian Madigan and Zebo in the wide open spaces.

Ireland were, as Paddy Jackson explains, in a bubble for the last month and now face a break. He can afford to allow his mind linger on Northern Ireland’s progress towards European football as much as the what next, when the squad hits Cardiff next Wednesday.

Before inflating themselves for the demands of Canada in their first pool match in less than two weeks, they at last have some deflation and Kyle Lafferty’s goal taking NI to the brink of French qualification adds to that.

Going crazy

And the Republic of Ireland against Georgia, also a mainstay in the Jackson household?

“I got a few texts saying are you watching it?” he says. There’s a moment’s hesitation and barely a grin creeps across his face. “I said don’t be stupid.”

The squad will regroup in their training base at Carton House next week before leaving. Jackson is in no mood to talk down form despite two defeats that crowned the series. More questions than answers.

Ulster team-mates are at the heart of that discussion, Jared Payne, an intelligent outside centre and Tommy Bowe, whose form was so far off against England as to be entirely out of character.

“He was disappointed with the game last week as were a good few of the guys,” he says of Bowe. “He hasn’t had too many games for Ireland and I haven’t seen him play many for Ulster. It’s Tommy Bowe. He’s a British and Irish Lion. He will bounce back strong and he is experienced enough to deal with it.”

Payne’s virtues are more subtle and it’s what he does on the pitch that influences shape and space. At outside centre, the nuances hit as hard as big yard gains. Jackson knows what to expect.

“He is a really good voice for you. He can see the space where it’s maybe difficult for 10 off quick ball or where you are very focused in on the ruck, what is around the ruck or in behind,” he says.

“When there is not space he runs seriously hard lines and he just offers himself up. As a 10 when there is quick ball that is exactly what you want, someone who is decisive in what they are doing.”

Cooler take

“I don’t think two defeats will tarnish our attacking threat,” he says. “Ireland have been very successful over the last few years and we have got to second in the world. Now we have dropped but I think we are in a good place going into the World Cup. ”

From the outside that view may require a leap of faith and any corrosive effect on the Schmidt factor is confined to those peering in. Ireland are far from claiming perfection but equally distant from throwing their toys out of the pram.

“It was a poor start,” concedes Jackson for the England game. “It’s nothing to worry about too much, just a few things to tidy up.”

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