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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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Jackson can cement World Cup place in Cardiff cauldron

The Ulster 10 can confidently execute Ireland’s gameplan in a pressurised trial run in the Millennium Stadium.

WARREN GATLAND MAY have thought it was ironic, but there is a very pragmatic reason Joe Schmidt asked for the Millennium Stadium roof to be closed on Saturday.

Pressure.

Joe Schmidt and Paddy Jackson Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Putting a lid on 74,000 simmering Welsh fans cranks up the noise, sends the intensity sky-rocketing and magnifies every act on the field for better or worse. 14.30 on Saturday can never be as important as an actual World Cup fixture, but under lights and under the roof it will be a valuable trial run.

“It is the litmus test,” said Schmidt yesterday, “it is where we find out, in a big stadium and with a big crowd, whether they can stay in the game and physically and mentally deliver what is required.

“It’s probably the best examination. but it’s been an examination over the last six weeks to find out who is physically and mentally prepared.”

Schmidt’s words were pointed at the entire squad, but for the 23-year-old in the most pressurised position on the field, they must feel tailor-made.

With every passing week before the Rugby World Cup kick-off, Paddy Jackson looks increasingly likely to be the understudy to Jonathan Sexton. Saturday’s Test will be another occasion when he has been able to claim the number 10 jersey ahead of Ian Madigan who must be wondering when he will get a chance to run a game from the start.

Jonathan Sexton and Paddy Jackson Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In what is far from an experimental line-up, Jackson rightly holds the jersey at the minute. Schmidt’s creative partnership with Sexton is well-documented and unlikely to fade any time soon. However, the Ulster out-half has grown in stature since helping Ireland run up the score against Italy on his last outing in 2014. He no longer sees himself merely as the stand-in. Jackson’s mindset is that he’s a viable competitor to Leinster’s prodigal son.

That innate self-confidence has never quite matched up with the boyish face that greets the world. Yet even after a season – or, at the very least, a Six Nations – spoiled with an elbow injury, he was a man making gains in terms of consistency of execution.

If Schmidt is rewarding players who make those around them look good, then Jackson fits the bill perfectly. His subtle but effective variation in short passing is being complimented more and more by both long and zip-lined flat passes that are a VIP invitation for team-mates get over the gainline.

Paddy Jackson Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His detractors will continually point to an erratic past history of goal-kicking. Since his high-profile baptism of fire however, Jackson has proven time and again – most recently to land a touchline conversion to seal a draw with Munster – that he has what it takes to nail pressure kicks when games are on the line. His consistency percentages off the tee may not be the equal of Madigan, but few in world rugby are.

Jackson’s game provides a much more rounded threat in attack than simply goal-kicking, he has the handy habit of getting his 14 team-mates into profitable positions more often than himself.

Tomorrow, Jackson will be hit full on by the atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium.

He’ll absorb it too. And spend the rest of the day underlining why Schmidt has such faith in him and proving that he deserves to be back under the roof at least twice more before October’s out.

Interview>> Maturing Paddy Jackson trusting his instincts ahead of World Cup

Ryan reaping reward for behind-the-scenes contribution to Schmidt success

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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