Paddy Jackson will join Irish team for Six Nations Showdown

Ireland's Paddy Jackson will not be involved against France, but will play for Ulster
Ireland's Paddy Jackson will not be involved against France, but will play for Ulster
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Outhalf Paddy Jackson will not be involved in Ireland’s Six Nations Championship decider against France in Paris on Saturday evening.

Instead, the Ulsterman will start for his Province in Friday night’s rearranged RaboDirect PRO12 match against Scarlets.

Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt has instead opted to go with Leinster flyhalf, Ian Madigan on the bench.

However, the News Letter understands Jackson will join his Irish team mates in France on Saturday morning which ensures having been an integral part of the squad this season he can join in potential celebrations if Ireland get over the line and register only a second win in France in 42 years.

Jackson has been on the bench for all of Ireland’s previous Six Nations games in this championship, understudy to Racing Metro’s Jonathan Sexton.

It is a harsh call on Ulsterman Jackson, particuarly as the Irish coach has been consistent in selection during the Six Nations.

Jackson played a full game for Ireland in the first Test match under Schmidt last November against Samoa, but then opted for Madigan on the bench in the games against Australia and New Zealand.

At that time Schmidt said Madigan gave cover to a number of positions from the bench.

Jackson appeared to have cemented himself as the Irish number two to Sexton having been involved in the previous Six Nations games.

But he only got 13 minutes in total against Scotland, Wales and England. Jackson did not put a foot wrong when he played 16 minutes in last weekend’s 46-7 win over Italy in Dublin which set up Saturday’s championship decider with the French in Paris. That makes it even harder to understand Schmidt’s decision not to involve him this weekend, unless he sees Madigan as offering more from the bench in what is expected to be a tight game with Les Bleus.

Ireland, England and France can all win the title going into the final weekend, the Irish having a superior points difference on the other two challengers, leaving them needing just a win to take the championship - unless England were to run riot and rack up a massive points haul in their clash with Italy in Rome.

Jackson will now start at outhalf for Ulster on Friday night in the PRO12 having been released back to his Province on Wednesday.

That is a massive boost for Ulster who face the Scarlets. Jackson will partner Ruan Pienaar with Michael Heaney on the bench after Paul Marshall was declared unavailable for selection.

Young Dungannon and Ulster Academy centre, Stuart McCloskey, will get his first competitive Ulster start having come off the bench in the win over NG Dragons a fortnight ago. He will partner Darren Cave in the midfield.

Tommy Bowe, Rory Scholes and Jared Payne will make up the back three.

Roger Wilson will make his 150th appearance for Ulster while Nick Williams is also available for selection following the outcome of an internal disciplinary hearing after he allegedly took leave without permission.

The big focus in the past week has been on the potential return to playing of backrow forward, Stephen Ferris. After a 15-month layoff, Ferris is expected to be named on the bench for Friday’s game and will get some game time.