IT’S BEEN A bizarre week for Paddy Jackson in terms of mental preparation.
The Ulster out-half had been running out as first-choice 10 all week in training until today, when Jonny Sexton returned to confirm his fitness ahead of the All Blacks Test. Jackson now finds himself out of the match-day squad for the second week in-a-row.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted at today’s team announcement in Carton House that the 21-year-old would have started on Sunday if Sexton hadn’t recovered from his hamstring injury. That means Jackson has gone from prepping himself to start the biggest international fixture in rugby to dealing with the disappointment of not being involved at all.
Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald have been selected as the substitutes to cover the back-line, with both players’ versatility highlighted by Schmidt as reasons for being chosen ahead of Jackson.
It’s just coverage. If we get an injury to someone like Gordon D’Arcy, or an injury elsewhere, it just gives us flexibility at this stage. Paddy plays 10 and doesn’t play other positions. That’s the reason, the same reason as last week really.
“If Jonny didn’t take the pitch, then Paddy would have started at 10. I think Paddy did really well against Samoa, so we have confidence in Paddy. We’ve got confidence in Jonny obviously because of the leadership he brings and the experience he has.
“That tips the balance for me in a week that wasn’t perfect preparation at all.”
Schmidt’s relief to have Sexton available for Saturday is obvious, given that the Racing Metro out-half is one of a handful of world-class players Ireland can call on. However, Schmidt points out that Jackson – and Robbie Henshaw, who filled in for Brian O’Driscoll in training this week – have major roles to play in the long-term.
Jonny Sexton is fit to play against the All Blacks on Sunday. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Paddy and he trained really well during the week. He can have a long future with Ireland. At the same time, Robbie Henshaw trained really well. Obviously it’s a good opportunity for them to get an opportunity in the run-on team and to get a little more understanding of what’s required and how we’re trying to organise ourselves.
“I suppose every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose that lining is just a little more in the future than immediately looking at this Sunday. We need to be as cohesive as we can be.”
Sexton’s organizational skills will be a crucial part of that but it is somewhat surprising to see the 28-year-old on the team sheet at all, given his clear anguish after picking up the injury against Australia.
Back in Paris, Racing will have been watching on with deep concern as their star player hobbled off last weekend, but Schmidt says they haven’t been in touch about the hamstring problem. The Ireland coach also gave a frank reminder that his heavy schedule in France may have been the cause of the injury.
They haven’t spoken to me about anything, and I haven’t spoken to them about Jonny playing 13 games in 12 weeks either. You assess the player, the player passes the fitness test. Jonny’s discomfort was more about knowing that he’d have to leave the field.
“The hamstring was a pretty mild injury, but there’s always risk. There’s a risk with a fully fit player who hasn’t had a hamstring injury recently. It’s about trying to manage that risk and getting the players out there.”
Ireland need Sexton at his best on Sunday, that much is certain.
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