THERE HAD BEEN doubts over Paddy Jackson’s ability to deliver for Ulster in the build-up to Friday night’s Heineken Cup opener against the Leicester Tigers, but the 21-year-old was composure personified for much of the evening at Ravenhill.
The Ireland international kicked five penalties and a conversion, missing just one attempt from the tee on the night. There has been justified concerns about his ability to kick under pressure but this showing will have given Ulster supporters confidence for the season ahead.
Mark Anscombe’s decision to start Ruan Pienaar on the bench meant Jackson was without the steadying influence of the experience South African, but he demonstrated that he is now ready to assume far greater responsibility for the province. His kicking from hand was superb and he attacked the gain-line with great intent.
Anscombe was pleased with what he saw from Jackson, but stresses that he was not surprised.
The fact is that we know what he’s capable of. We’ve been saying to you guys for the last six months that we, as a team, have all the confidence in the world in the guy. He’s only human and we don’t perform with A-grade performances week in, week out.
“He started the season off a little bit slower but he’s hitting his straps at the right time. He’s 22 years of age [sic] and he’s grown to be a very good first five eighth.”
The Ulster coach added: “I thought he was good. We played at the right end, he kicked his goals and only missed the one. I thought our aerial game was good tonight, we got good returns there. Paddy was to the fore there, and Marshy [Paul Marshall] and Ru [Pienaar] later on added to it.”
A further positive for the northern province was the impact their bench made in the second half. Pienaar was the stand out in that regard, but Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Stuart Olding and Ricky Lutton all featured to varying prominence as substitutes. Anscombe was encouraged by their input.
Anscombe was happy with Jackson’s kicking game. ©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd.
“I think the way the game is today, you need 23 players. I know we didn’t use them all today, but the fact is it’s a hard battle and big men bash into each other the entire game. Around that 60 minute mark, it’s really good if you’ve got some players that you’re comfortable and confident of bringing on and adding something to the game.
We’re getting to the stage where we’re comfortable and we’ve got players in our group to bring that energy and can lift the team with 15 or 20 to go.”
While there were indeed many positives for Ulster to be satisfied with from Friday night’s game, Anscombe will be displeased by the manner in which his side failed to convert several try-scoring chances. There was a distinct lack of ruthlessness in the way Ulster let those opportunities slip.
“We were playing at the right end of the park, but we left a couple of tries out there. We had some good opportunities out there, and we’re not having the luck of it at the moment, they’re not sticking. But we’ve just got to keep positive, keep playing rugby and we know those opportunities are going to stick sooner rather than later.”
Despite the missed chances, Anscombe claims that he is happy just to get a win on the board in a pool where every single point will count. A trip to Montpellier awaits next weekend, and the Kiwi coach is pleased to be travelling with a win under their belts.
“At the end of the day, our objective was to get the four points and we achieved that. So if each week and each game we play, that’s our objective and we stick to doing it, we’ll come through. If they’re [Leicester] happy with the one, that’s fine. We’re happy with the four.
“As we said, there’s only six games so you’ve got to win your home games to be there at the end of the day and we’ve won our first one. We’ll enjoy that and then start thinking our visit to France.”
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