With the November Guinness Test series just around the corner, the second choice outhalf to Racing Metro’s Jonny Sexton, is likely to be settled over the next couple of weeks as the Irish Provinces turn their attention to the Heineken Cup.
After this weekend’s series of matches in the RaboDirect PRO12, Ulster’s Paddy Jackson has certainly edged ahead of the contenders from Leinster (Ian Madigan) and Munster (Ian Keatley), with an all around impressive display in the 18-12 victory over Ospreys in Swansea.
It was not just the fact that he kicked six penalties for a 100 per cent return on attempts on the night - and a couple from long range at that - but his overall game play that made him stand out.
The 21-year-old has not allowed the harsh criticism from certain quarters which followed his Ireland appearances last season in the Six Nations when thrust into the limelight with Sexton out injured.
Jackson’s general game play has been gradually improving with every match this season and his last three outings, which also conincided with Ulster victories after two straight losses in the PRO12, are conincidental.
The next two weeks are crucial for Ulster, but also Jackson, with the big stage of the Heineken Cup. His performances against Leicester Tigers on Friday night at Ravenhill and eight days later in Montpellier will be watched closely by new Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt.
If he keeps the consistency of recent weeks, there will be no argunments.
Irish selection and November was far from Jackson’s mind over the weekend.
He dropped into Stevenson Park on Saturday to watch his brother Paul and his club in the All Ireland League game between Dungannon and Dublin University.
In terms of the PRO12 victory in Swansea Jackson was glad the hard work on the training paddock had paid off as the match inevitably came down to a battle of the kickers - Dan Biggar kicking four penalties to make it 12 to the Welsh side before Jackson got the first of his six chances to impress with the boot.
“I’ve been working hard on my kicking and it’s a confidence thing, they went over and I’m just glad to get the win for the team,” said Jackson.
“Biggar got all his kicks as well and he did everything for his side, he’s a good player and it was unlucky for them as it was a bit of a grudge match.”
After starting with two defeats Ulster have hit form at the right time with the English champions Leicester coming to Ravenhill on Friday night for the opening Heineken Cup game but Jackson feels the side will have to lift their performance for the Tigers.
“Obviously we’re not pleased with our start to the season but we’ve put that behind us and we’ll take this momentum into the Heineken but I think we definitely still have a lot to work on, we need to be much more clinical and to hold onto the ball but in those conditions we’ll take the win.”