Scotland v Ireland, Six Nations, February 23
O'Driscoll has complete faith in debutant Jackson
February 22, 2013
Twenty-one-year-old Ulster playmaker Paddy Jackson will make his Test debut against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday © PA Photos
Ireland veteran Brian O'Driscoll has backed his side's freshest face - fly-half Paddy Jackson - to thrive on his Test debut against Scotland on Sunday.
Jackson will fill the void left by injured No.10 Jonathan Sexton having earned a surprise promotion for his side's latest Six Nations outing ahead of the vastly-experienced Ronan O'Gara. The 21-year-old Ulster playmaker is one of the rising stars of Irish rugby but has been dogged by criticism that followed his performance in last season's Heineken Cup final where his province were routed 42-14 by Leinster. However O'Driscoll, who spearheaded Leinster's charge to euro glory that day, believes that Jackson has shown he warrants a chance to impress on the international stage.
"I heard Paddy talking about the learning curve from the Heineken Cup final," O'Driscoll told PA Sport. "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 himself insists he has developed as a player since that Twickenham finale. "I've come a long way since the Heineken Cup final," said Jackson. "I'll be more used to dealing with nerves and don't think I'll be as nervous."
He added: "I'm excited and looking forward to getting out there against Scotland. I was very surprised to be selected. I had butterflies in my stomach, but then I calmed down. I'm really glad I've got my chance now. This will be the biggest game I've played in."
Jackson will be joined in a new-look Ireland line-up by provincial team-mate and fellow 21-year-old Like Marshall, who has replaced the injured Gordon D'Arcy. The duo excelled during the non-cap international against Fiji last autumn but this clash represents a step up in class - one that O'Driscoll is confident that they will handle.
"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 first started watching O'Driscoll - a quote not lost on his midfield partner. "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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