SCOTLAND might like to think it has the monopoly on crises at stand-off but, as Ruaridh Jackson begins to get to grips with the navy No 10 jersey, his namesake Paddy will walk on to Murrayfield on Sunday with many Irish supporters clutching their four-leafed clovers.
When Jonathan Sexton went down injured in the last round of the RBS Six Nations against England, Ronan O’Gara replaced him. The 35-year-old is no longer the player he was, obviously at that age, and he struggled to weave his magic. So, Ireland coach Declan Kidney has turned to uncapped Ulsterman Jackson, 21 last month, a decision made more surprising for some by the selection of another uncapped youngster, Luke Marshall, at 12.
Filling the other gaps are prop Tom Court, who comes in for Cian Healy, wing Keith Earls, who replaces the injured Simon Zebo and veteran lock Donncha O’Callaghan, who returns to the starting line-up in place of Mike McCarthy.
Jackson will not be new to Edinburgh supporters, who hoped their team would exploit his being promoted to the Ulster No 10 jersey ahead of last year’s Heineken Cup semi-final, only for the Scottish pack to be shunted all over the place and the then Ireland Under-20 skipper to enjoy a comfortable ride.
It was a different matter in the final, where Jackson struggled against Leinster and had to be withdrawn early in the second half. But he has taken his learning to a new level this season with the guiding hand of Springbok Ruan Pienaar and, after a run out for the Irish A sdie against Fiji in the autumn, is confident he is ready to step up.
“Of course I’m ready,” he said. “This is something I’ve been wanting to achieve for a long time, since I was a kid, so I’m very much looking forward to it.
“I learned a lot from the Heineken Cup Final. It was a great experience. Obviously things didn’t go very well but I did learn from it. It was only my second start in the Heineken Cup so, once I got a few more games, got to know the players a bit better, everything has been fine. You learn more from your mistakes rather than after having an absolute blinder.”
“My first [national squad] camp was over a year ago so I’ve been involved with Ireland for quite a while now. And I had the opportunity to play with Conor [Murray] against Fiji, so it’s good to be playing with him again. That Fiji game will help a lot.”
Pressure builds around the fact that Jackson has not been goalkicking either, with Pienaar the master at Ulster, but he will be charged with the duties on Sunday. Kidney did not try to hide from the fact that picking O’Gara would have been difficult after his form for Ireland and last weekend for Munster against the Scarlets. And he has faith in Jackson.
“I suppose that’s the great thing about sport,” he said. “People will always have their own opinions about things. “You have to put fifteen on the pitch. Then it’s a case of seeing who’s going best and that’s the combination that has shown itself in training and in matches recently. That’s the job. Most teams are pretty good in that they pick themselves. Sometimes to make a few changes is when the coach has to step in and make a few calls/decisions that are deemed to be close.
“Paddy has been in with us over a period of time. He played well against Fiji and Saxons. There are tight calls to be made and they’re not easy calls. That’s the job of the coach.
“Ronan will bench with us on Sunday. Form is temporary, class is permanent. There’ll always be little dips and rises in a guy’s career. Thar’s why we always try to hold out so that, when there is a dip, we don’t go over the top because there are always going to be days like that. I’ll have no fear for Ronan on Sunday [if he comes on].”
Jackson mentioned that O’Gara was the first player to come and offer his best wishes after the team announcement, and admitted that he did believe that a first Six Nations appearance had moved within reach when Sexton hobbled off against England.
“You begin to wonder,” he said. “But this is something I’ve always wanted to do and I have tried to make it happen. I am not going to say I expected to be in this position but it is something I have aimed for and, obviously, with Jonny and Ronan in there I knew that, if there was an injury, there might be a chance. I’m just glad it has happened.
“He [O’Gara] didn’t have much to say. He just said ‘well done; I’m happy for you’. It was very nice of him. I grew up watching Ronan and [Jonny] Wilkinson when I was a bit younger, so it’s great to have this opportunity to step up.
“I’m glad that my first start will be with Luke [Marshall], too. I played against Luke at schools as well so we would know each very well and we enjoy playing together. We are very used to one another so I am very glad that my first cap is with him because we are good mates as well.”