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'We have to move on' - Schmidt backs Jackson to fill Sexton's shoes

The Ulster out-half is now favourite to wear Ireland’s 10 shirt in South Africa.

JOE SCHMIDT HOPES Paddy Jackson can bring his end-of-season form with Ulster into Ireland’s tour of South Africa after he was dealt a major blow with the loss of Johnny Sexton to injury.

The 30-year-old will miss the trip after undergoing shoulder surgery, with Schmidt putting the timeframe for Sexton’s recovery at three months.

Paddy Jackson Jackson last played for Ireland at the World Cup. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Dave and Rob Kearney have also both been ruled out of the tour with respective calf and hamstring problems, after Luke Fitzgerald’s knee issue saw his withdrawal from the Ireland squad earlier this week.

Schmidt has added Ian Madigan to his squad in place of Sexton, while Matt Healy, Tiernan O’Halloran and Craig Gilroy come into the 32-man group to replace the injured outside backs.

Schmidt acknowledged the blow of losing Sexton’s leadership but looked to quickly turn the page by saying that Jackson, Madigan and Stuart Olding – who covers out-half – can compensate.

The experience that he has, the fact that he is one of the key leaders along with Rory [Best] and Jamie [Heaslip], that’s a loss,” said Schmidt of Sexton. “But when you lose experience you often can gain excitement and there’s some really excited young players.

“If we lose that experience, hopefully that experience can be compensated with the excitement those guys bring.

“I had a good conversation with Johnny. We have to move on and you start investing in Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan and Stu Olding.”

While Schmidt said he could not provide too much detail on Sexton’s shoulder injury, he stated that the Leinster playmaker should be fit in time for the start of next season.

“There was a feeling that it could be managed conservatively either for him to continue playing or for him to return but after seeing the specialist [on Monday], it was felt that surgery was the most appropriate action,” said Schmidt.

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Paddy Jackson with Ian Madigan Jackson and Madigan are Schmidt's options at 10, along with Olding. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

For now, it appears to be Jackson’s time to shine.

The Ulsterman has won 13 Ireland caps in total, making his debut under Declan Kidney in 2013. However, he has been third-choice behind Sexton and Madigan for the vast majority of Schmidt’s reign.

Jackson didn’t even make an Ireland bench during this year’s Six Nations, as Schmidt continually preferred Madigan’s versatility.

Schmidt said he has no time to regret the fact that the 24-year-old Jackson has not played for Ireland since coming off the bench in the win against Romania at last year’s World Cup.

I don’t think we can live with regrets,” said Schmidt. “At the time [during the Six Nations] Johnny played really well and we needed the multi-cover off the bench, particularly because we tended to lose players during those games.

“At the same time, Paddy was in and out of camp during that time so he was certainly up to speed in terms of what we were doing. That was probably a real upsurge in his form. He was running a team [Ulster] that he was the experienced player in.

“The old guys like Rory weren’t there. He really took the team by the scruff of the neck and I think he grew during that period. There is always a silver lining and Paddy made the most of that, and that showed in his end-of-season form.”

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Murray Kinsella

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