Paddy Jackson to step it up against Dragons

Paddy Jackson poses for a picture with fans at the Irish training open session in Belfast

Paddy Jackson poses for a picture with fans at the Irish training open session in Belfast

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Paddy Jackson will come under close examination on Friday night when Ulster take on NG Dragons in the RaboDirect PRO12 at Ravenhill.

The Ulster flyhalf was released – along with lock Iain Henderson – by Ireland for the Celtic League fixture in Belfast.

As suggested by the News Letter earlier this week, Jackson is now in line for a Six Nations start against Italy in Dublin next week.

There has been some speculation that first choice outhalf, Jonathon Sexton, would either miss next week’s penultiate Championship game either with through injury or being rested.

However, his French club, Racing Metro, said on its social media Twtitter account last night that Sexton could be out for 10 days to six weeks due to a thumb ligament injury.

Sexton suffered the injury during Ireland’s 13-10 defeat to England last Saturday at Twickenham.

That result, plus defending champions Wales’ win over France in Cardiff, threw open the Championship battle with all four nations on four points each with two rounds remaining – the Irish on top of the table on points difference.

Ireland face Italy on Saturday March 8 in Dublin before going to Paris for what could still be a title decider.

It looks highly unlikely that Sexton will be involved in either game.

Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt, will turn to Ulsterman Jackson to lead the backline with Leinster’s Ian Madigan as his understudy.

Meanwhile, Ulster were handed another boost when British Lion Tommy Bowe was named in the starting line-up for tonight’s game having been out for three months with injury.

His return could also earn a recall to the Ireland squad in the dramatic conculsion to the Championship.