With Ireland coach Joe Schmidt sitting in Kingspan Stadium’s stands and Ulster facing Leinster in a crunch derby Guinness PRO12 clash, Paddy Jackson could not have picked a better time to put on one of his finest displays this season.
The 24-year-old fly-half capped an almost perfect performance by running from his own ‘22’ with a snatch intercept from Luke Fitzgerald’s arms to score a try two minutes from the end and register 18 points in total as a contribution to a memorable 30-6 success.
Jackson gave a flawless kicking display with three penalties and two conversions – he was too exhausted to take his own conversion, although replacement scrumhalf Paul Marshall had the wit to drop kick that conversion as Ulster looked for a bonus point try.
Jackson had seen little action at the Rugby World Cup with Ireland and he was completely overlooked for the Six Nations Championship in the green jersey in spite of coming into the tournament as the best performing outhalf in the country,
Jonathan Sexton was Schmidt’s preferred choice and with Iain Madigan offering cover options in several positions, the Leinster duo kept Jackson out from adding to his 13 Irish caps.
It has been to Ulster’s benefit though, playing in 22 games this season to date and his contribution on Saturday against Leinster was stand out.
Jackson admitted to still feeling ill after his late gallop over three quarters of the pitch
“Towards the end of the game once we started pulling away I started to get so excited about the prospect of winning and I just wanted to keep fighting and fighting,” he said.
“I was sure someone was going to catch me (racing away for his try), but when I got about 10m out my right calf cramped, so that’s the excuse for the horrible dive at the end.
“I was a bit worried that I put the ball short, but once all the lads were jumping on top of me I knew I had got it, but I was close to being sick.
“I think it was neck and neck first-half, Sexton got two brilliant kicks either side of the pitch, so it looked like things were going to get moving and then I think towards the end of the second-half, our pack just stepped it up and made it really easy for me to get the team moving a bit – it was a good battle.”
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