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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Vision
Maturing Paddy Jackson trusting his instincts ahead of World Cup
The Ulster out-half says the game is slowing down more for him as he gains experience.

HE’S STILL ONLY 23 years of age, but the sense is that Paddy Jackson is now maturing into the complete package as an out-half.

After missing a large stint midway through last season, the Ulster playmaker had an exceptional run of form towards the end of the campaign. Though it ended in more agony for the northern province, Jackson did his Ireland prospects a world of good.

IrelandÕs Paddy Jackson Jackson will make it cap number 10 during the World Cup warm-ups.

Capped a total of nine times since Declan Kidney gave him an international debut against Scotland in the 2013 Six Nations, Jackson got 30 minutes off the bench against the Barbarians in May on his return to the green jersey after an extended absence.

He’s now “excited about the prospect of getting a few games” in the coming weeks when Ireland face Wales, Scotland and England during their World Cup warm-up schedule, as he looks to ensure his place in the final 31-man squad for the tournament.

Picking up where he left off last season would be ideal for Jackson.

His passing, both short and long, was beautiful to watch for Ulster in the closing months of 2014/15, and Jackson feels the improvement in that part of his game was down to a generally enhanced approach to training after returning from an elbow injury.

I’m not sure what happened!” said Jackson at Ulster’s kit launch on Thursday. “I’ve always thought passing was one of the strongest parts of my game. I like taking it to the line and putting those flat balls out.

“I think coming into the end of the season, I’d been out for a while and knew I had to perform. I was very focused and everything I did was focused towards training and matches and analysing other teams.

“It all came together for me and that’s a good learning curve for me. I put a lot of effort in and it definitely paid off, so I’ll be doing the same again.”

Joe Schmidt with Paddy Jackson Dan Sheridan / INPHO Schmidt used Jackson in four of Ireland's 2014 Six Nations games. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

A strong passing game is very much linked to the ability to actually see space on the pitch, the capacity to identify mismatches and chinks in the defensive line before releasing the ball to teammates.

With four seasons as a senior pro behind him, as well as his collection of Ireland caps, Jackson explains that his vision has grown hugely.

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“Definitely, definitely. When I first came on the scene, everything was a bit of a blur and it was so quick,” said Jackson. “It was very hard to read defences, but now I’m very much comfortable with the guys around me and I’ve been here a good few years now.

As you get that experience, it comes a lot easier and things slow down a bit more, you find yourself a bit more assertive in trusting your instincts.”

The players around him are naturally just as important as the pass itself, their lines of running often deciding how successful Jackson’s ability to put them into any holes in the defence is.

The out-half underlines the need to “trust the information the guys outside you are giving you,” something that also applies to his kicking from hand.

An area of Jackson’s game that has come under scrutiny or perhaps caused concern in the past is place-kicking, but the nerve he showed to hammer over a game-drawing touchline conversion against Munster late last season was an illustration of his improvement in that department.

Jonathan Sexton and Paddy Jackson Dan Sheridan / INPHO Jackson works closely with Johnny Sexton but on an equal footing. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” said Jackson of his goal-kicking. “If it was a big factor I wouldn’t be in the squad, or would have maybe gone on the Emerging Ireland tour. I want to be kicking as much as I can.

“I’m sure if I’m starting or I come on in these games, I’ll be kicking. Myself Mads, Johnny and Keats have been doing a good bit of kicking after sessions, so it’s just about getting out there and doing it in the games.”

Of course, the reputation and quality of Johnny Sexton looms large in the 10 shirt for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland heading into this World Cup.

While Jackson says he learned plenty from the Leinster out-half in his earlier years with Ireland, the Ulsterman’s relationship with Sexton has changed in more recent times. Any sense of master and apprentice has faded, with Jackson now working alongside Sexton as an equal.

I’ve been around Johnny and Joe a good bit and Joe is always someone to learn off and listen to.

“Maybe when I first came in I was keeping an eye on Johnny and seeing how things worked around him and how he operated the team, but now I’ve been there long enough to add my own spice to it.

“I’ve got my own way of playing, and now it’s a chat between the two of us.”

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