Ireland will enter the Six Nations without linchpin playmaker Jonny Sexton, but captain Rory Best insists Paddy Jackson is more than capable of filling the boots.
The championship kicks off on Saturday afternoon when Scotland face Ireland and Best has backed fly-half Paddy Jackson to control the Edinburgh contest.
Lions star Sexton is likely to miss Ireland’s first two Six Nations clashes owing to calf trouble, so Ulster’s Jackson again steps into the starting line-up.
Sexton’s litany of injury problems has afforded Jackson sufficient time in the Ireland shirt to register a tangible Test match foothold.
He was the lead man during the summer tour to South Africa and featured against Australia and New Zealand in November.
Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt, will be happy much of the focus in the build-up to the opening match against the Scots will have been on someone who is not involved, but Jackson is more than ready.
100-cap hooker Best insists Jackson must end any Ireland apprenticeship and master his outside-half craft.
“I think we need both our half-backs to dominate,” said Best, of Jackson and Conor Murray.
“There’s no doubt that the half-backs move you around and put you in position to win matches.
“With Paddy and Johnny (Sexton) we have two really, really good out-halves.
“It’s Jacko’s chance now to have a go at it.
“He’s played the majority of the Tests in the last 12 months. So he’s ready to perform.”
Schmidt conceded that Sexton has dominated their previous Six Nations campaign, but acknowledged the investment they have put into Jackson.
“But at the same time Paddy Jackson has done really well. He has been involved in the previous Tests so it’s not like he hasn’t had good experience.”