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'One of the best': Why Paddy Jackson is in Irish leadership group

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Former Wallabies scrum-half Nick Phipps has outlined the qualities he sees in London Irish having Paddy Jackson as part of the Gallagher Premiership club’s leadership group for the second successive season. Last month’s confirmation by the Exiles that Jackson was helping out Phipps and skipper Matt Rogerson in guiding the club this season sparked a Twitter storm with unhappy critics dragging up the Irishman’s past as a reason for him not to be in a position of authority. 

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The ex-Ulster out-half Jackson was sacked by the IRFU in April 2018 even though he had been found not guilty the previous month at a high profile rape trial in Belfast. Jackson soon went to France to rebuild his career, spending a season at Perpignan before joining London Irish on their return to the Premiership for the 2019/20 season.

He has since struck up an encouraging rapport with fellow half-back Phipps and while social media seems determined to repeatedly bring up Jackson’s past, London Irish have a different impression of the player whose influence in the dressing room and around the club is strong.  

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Jack Nowell guests on the RugbyPass Offload
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Jack Nowell guests on the RugbyPass Offload

Phipps regularly accompanies Jackson on the morning drive to the Irish club’s Hazelwood training ground and he explained to RugbyPass the dynamic of the leadership group the pair head along with captain Rogerson. “I come in with Paddy probably a couple of times a week and it’s good for us, also as a nine and ten to just get a lot of stuff out and chew the fat, understand what we are talking about so we are on the same page. 

We think alike in a lot of moments around the game and in the club and stuff like that so I am quite lucky to be working with such a great player, and I also work a lot with Matt. That is the nice thing about having a small leadership group. I have been in leadership groups before where it is so big you don’t really get time to catch up with people. 

“Everything is just diluted and never led with action words whereas the three of us can just walk down the corridor and quickly talk some rubbish and then leave it five minutes later. I feel that is working for us really well and there is a lot of yin and yang about as well in us three. Matt is a very stern northerner from up near Manchester and me and Paddy are just cheeky little nines and tens running around, sort of annoying everyone. It’s a great dynamic and between the three of us and we all have the confidence of everyone else in the group to get better. 

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“Often it is hard being a leader because you are going to rub some people the wrong way in the way that you are just trying to make the club and players better. I am still learning every day about leadership and how to manage that but also how to separate that from your own game. I’m quite lucky to have those two blokes there in the leadership group with me.”

Asked to give an insight into how he and Jackson bounce off each other as a half-back combination, Phipps added: “It has been great. I sort of came late in my first year and Paddy had been injured so I didn’t get a chance to play with him for a fair while but I got a lot of time with him off the field (during the lockdown) and I have loved sort of growing that relationship which has then worked really well for us on the field. 

“He is a funny little man. We talk so quickly on the field and in such short sentences but we are still able to convey exactly what we mean and I feel like in the heat of battle if things are going wrong or things are going really well we are bouncing off each other quite well. I have played with some great tens in my day and Paddy is certainly one of the best I have played with. As a group, we are really lucky to have him in the director’s chair at the moment running around and as with all the nines, we’re lucky to work with such a great player.”

How difficult, though, was it for Aussie to initially understand the distinctive Northern Irish accent that Jackson has. “It definitely took me a while. I have managed to work out his accent. (Declan) Kidney, I still don’t have any idea. I just nod and smile and it seems to have gotten me by so far.”

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Beaten narrowly by Northampton last Saturday, London Irish are winless three games into the new Premiership campaign after an opening weekend defeat at Worcester and then a home draw with Sale. They are now preparing to host early leaders Leicester and Phipps reported that things turned feisty on the training ground on Tuesday morning with plenty of stern words said. The exact words, though, the scrum-half wouldn’t reveal.

“Is RugbyPass PG? It’s just little moments, non-negotiables, work rate, getting off the ground, stuff like that. Sometimes players see themselves playing different moments in different lights and it is important as a group we are all on the same page about what we want. I will keep a few stern words private but it has been good. When people are on different pages it is good to come to a head at a stage to find a way to nut it out. That has been a few moments this week and it has been great. 

“It’s important to strike that balance between public and private words and I feel like we have done that really well this week and people have responded. We have just finished training and people have really responded this week – we have had a great session. Every now and then you need a little kick in the bum to get going, don’t you? The maturity of the group is at a stage where we need to be ready to go and we have struck the right balance this week.”

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