RUARIDH Jackson is expected to retain the No 10 jersey for Scotland’s meeting with Wales in their penultimate RBS Six Nations match of the season, but the fly-half insisted that he was acutely aware of the pressure coming from his clubmate Duncan Weir.
The two have been viewed as the most promising young stand-off talents in Scotland for the past two years, Jackson having finally broken clear of serious injury and the shadow of Dan Parks to this season be given his first lengthy run of starts at pro level, while Weir has bounced back from injury this term to turn in a string of fine displays for Glasgow in Jackson’s Test-related absence.
Weir came off the bench to play a key role as Scotland turned the tide against Ireland on Sunday to score 12 points and claim victory in the last quarter. This week he returns to the Glasgow line-up seeking to back up that run, and his last club appearance, which resulted in a 60-3 win away to Newport Gwent Dragons, by helping steer the Warriors to victory over Cardiff at Scotstoun.
Jackson is given a week off, a clear indication that he will start next week and Weir be handed the bench role again. The players are close friends and as they came together yesterday to help Greaves Sports in Glasgow launch a new adidas ‘Boost’ trainer, they insisted that their performances were both improving partly due to their own rivalry.
Jackson insisted that he did not know Scott Johnson’s team selection against Wales, and was trying not to read anything into Weir’s release for Glasgow.
“You always want to be playing,” he said, “and if I was sent back to Glasgow this weekend I’d be happy because it’s a great place to be. If Duncan has a stormer who knows what they might do next week?
“I know that I’d love to start in the Wales game and help try to keep the momentum up, but nothing has changed between me and Duncan. We seem to be one and two at the moment for Scotland and Glasgow, but we work well together and work to try and improve each other.
“It might be a different dynamic if the two of us didn’t like each other, but it’s not like that at all. Of course, the goal for both of us is to play as much as you can for Glasgow and for Scotland, and clearly we can’t both achieve that every week, but you accept that and do what you can to try to get the opportunities.
“He played really well against the Dragons two weeks ago and did well coming off the bench against Ireland on Sunday, and I hope he goes well on Friday night against Cardiff, for him, but also to get the result for Glasgow.
“Yes, there’s pressure, but there’s always pressure at this level. It’s nice to start and those first 60 minutes are always tougher, and last week we didn’t get the ball so I think I made more tackles than I touched the ball in attack.
“But we showed against Italy how clinical we could be when we did have the ball, so hope- fully we have more ball and quicker ball against Wales and we get our attack going again because we’ve shown the quality we have out wide.”
Weir said: “I really enjoyed the 20 minutes I got off the bench and it was great to be part of that, but I was pleased for Ruaridh as well. There’s a lot of learning between us. We feed off each other, work together and drive each other in training, and we definitely benefit from having the other one there.
“We are good friends and I don’t think the matter of who gets the starting jersey is going to end that friendship. At the end of the day we give each other a handshake. My sister sent me a photo after Sunday’s game and he was hugging me, so that just shows the team spirit. If Ruaridh has a good game I’m the first person to go over and congratulate him. There’s no bitterness between us.
“I am enjoying my rugby and my performance against the Dragons was enjoyable and being part of the win over Ireland at the weekend was fantastic. The more I play the happier I will become, so I am really looking forward to playing against Cardiff knowing I need to be at my best to help us to victory.”
The duo also have a good mentor in Glasgow’s head coach, Gregor Townsend, while his fellow former internationalists Chris Paterson and Duncan Hodge have also been working closely with both players to improve their game.
Townsend is enjoying helping them to develop, continuing the work of Sean Lineen in bringing Weir closer to the gain-line as an attacking threat and improving both players’ game management skills. He dismissed a suggestion, however, that Jackson could be portrayed like him and Weir likened to Craig Chalmers in replaying the rivalry the two Borders players enjoyed in the 1990s.
“I don’t think so. Both Ruaridh and Duncan have strengths and areas they are working on, but a lot comes down to game understanding. It’s definitely not as simple as to say one is a kicker and one an attacking threat.
“They are young in terms of playing at this level. Duncan’s attacking game is really improving, his running on to the ball and passing, and Ruaridh’s kicking game has always been there because he has the length, but it’s making sure you’re kicking at the right time.
“We’ve worked this season with Ruaridh on how he best starts games and gets his strengths out, but it was difficult at the weekend [against Ireland] for example as both stand-offs, combined, got 12 touches of the ball, where in some games stand-offs have 50 or 60 touches. It’s hard to get into games when you’re constantly defending.
“For me, it’s about making sure that they are both improving and taking the opportunities when they have them. Ruaridh took his opportunity leading up to the Six Nations, playing very well in our games against Edinburgh and over at Castres as well, and now Duncan is looking like he’s bang in form, too, but a stand-off has to pass, kick and tackle in every game so those skills have to be at a high level every time.”