O’Driscoll backs Jackson to prove critics wrong
Brian O’Driscoll has predicted Ireland’s debutant fly-half Paddy Jackson will flourish against Scotland after rejecting criticism of his performance in last year’s Heineken Cup final.
Jackson will pull the strings in tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations clash at Murrayfield after he was chosen ahead of Ronan O’Gara to cover for the injured Jonathan Sexton. While the 21-year-old is viewed as a potential star of Irish rugby, he crumbled on his biggest match to date when Ulster were routed 42-14 by Leinster in their European final at Twickenham in May.
Substituted early in the second half and later cast as villain of the piece, the misfiring outside-half endured a chastening afternoon that he now considers a valuable experience.
But from his vantage point in the opposing midfield that day, O’Driscoll saw enough to conclude that the negative appraisals of Jackson were unjustified.
“I heard Paddy talking about the learning curve from the Heineken Cup final,” said the Lions centre.
“In fact, I think some of the stuff written about him in that game was very harsh. He really didn’t have that off a game.
“There were a couple of skewed kicks but that was the extent of it. He did the fundamental things like tackling well. He passes the ball nicely and takes it to the line.
“He was an easy out for people. Not that he got scapegoated, but some of the pressure put on him and things written about him were unfair. And that’s coming from someone who was playing against him.
“That was eight months ago and you’ve seen his performances throughout the year.
“It certainly hasn’t affected him in any way, shape or form and he deserves his opportunity.
“He’s said he’s learned a huge amount from that and has come back and shown a great ability to play what he sees in front of him.
“That’s an exciting aspect to his game – he’s a heads-up footballer and isn’t afraid of having a go himself.”
Jackson will be joined in Ireland’s newly configured backline by another 21-year-old uncapped Ulsterman in Luke Marshall, who has replaced the injured Gordon D’Arcy.
The duo excelled during the non-cap international against Fiji last autumn, but will be gifted far less space at Murrayfield and their selection is a bold move by head coach Declan Kidney.
O’Driscoll insists that only by the end of Sunday afternoon will a clearer picture of whether they belong at Test level emerge.
“The proof will be in the pudding when they get out there, but they’re confident guys,” the 34-year-old said.
“I certainly don’t envisage either of them freezing. They’ve played in big games.
“They’re going to be big game players and lots of players have been dropped into the deep end of Six Nations rugby and survived.
“I’d imagine they’ll survive as well with no problems whatsoever.”
Marshall revealed earlier this week that he was only nine years old when he started watching O’Driscoll, the veteran of three Lions tours who will be his centre partner in Edinburgh.
“Luke probably didn’t realise what a massive insult to me that was! It’s crazy to think that you get to play with guys who were watching you at that young age,” O’Driscoll said.
“That’s the cycle of rugby – everyone moves on and different players get different opportunities for a variety of different reasons.
“Gordon D’Arcy is out injured for the rest of the competition and that gives Luke the chance to lay down a marker and impress the coaches.
“I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from him. He’s a quiet, fairly unassuming lad who works hard and listens and that’s all you can ask for.”
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Monday 20 May 2013
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