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Twitter erupts after Irish keep Paddy Jackson in leadership role

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

The decision by London Irish to keep Paddy Jackson in a leadership role for the new Gallagher Premiership season has generated a Twitter storm in his native Ireland ahead of Friday’s pre-season friendly versus Connacht in Galway. Having had his contract terminated by the IRFU in April 2018, Jackson has since re-established his rugby career, initially spending a year in France with Perpignan before switching to London Irish and becoming a vital part of their set-up under Declan Kidney. 

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It was Kidney who gave Jackson his Ireland debut in 2013 and his soft spot for the now 29-year-old has resulted in the out-half getting chosen in the London Irish leadership group. It was last November when he was chosen in a four-strong leadership team for the 2020/21 season and with Blair Cowan having since left the club, Jackson has been chosen again along with Nick Phipps to support skipper Matt Rogerson in the season ahead. 

Kidney explained: “We believe that in Matt, Nick and Paddy we have got a very strong and experienced leadership group for the upcoming season… each of the three players brings different strengths that will help us continue to progress over the course of the campaign.”

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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown on their favourite rugby memories

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However, this decision to keep Jackson in the three-strong leadership group has ignited another divisive social media debate due to the Irishman’s involvement in a high-profile court case. Jackson, who became the established Ireland out-half back-up to Johnny Sexton during the Joe Schmidt era, was sacked by his IRFU employers three-and-a-half years ago despite being found not guilty of raping a young student at a house party in Belfast.

It’s a case that hasn’t been forgotten in Ireland judging by how #Ibelieveher and ‘Paddy Jackson’ have been trending on Twitter since the latest London Irish leadership group announcement was made, the original tweet by the club attracting multiple responses, and it has since been confirmed that Jackson will be the starting No10 for Friday’s game in Galway, his first time playing in Ireland since May 2017.

Jackson hasn’t played in Ireland since his departure from Ulster, missing out on trips to Connacht with Perpignan and to Munster with Irish, but his form in England hasn’t gone unnoticed. It was last March when Kidney spoke about Jackson’s on-pitch consistency at a time when his play at London Irish had resulted in some rugby pundits claiming he should be considered by Ireland again even though they hadn’t chosen an overseas-based player since Sexton was at Racing in France in 2015. 

Paddy is a very good rugby player. We knew that and we wanted to bring in an out-half with experience,” said Kidney six months ago. “Both myself and Les (Kiss, Jackson’s ex-Ulster boss and an ex-Ireland assistant) knew him and we asked him to join us. He has joined in and I suppose he is not doing anything we didn’t think he was well capable of. 

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“It seems a very bland answer but you probably wouldn’t expect anything else from me on that particular topic. He is an international ten, he is an international quality ten. That is not in dispute. He is just in his prime and he is playing accordingly. He is a good player, yeah, but there is nothing he is doing that I didn’t think he was capable of doing.

“There were probably a couple of other areas he can add to his bow then too. His playing was truncated. He was at full-back a lot when he was at Perpignan and then when he was with us as well then too, we had Stephen Myler and we had a bit of 15/10 but there is a longer run there now at 10 and he is getting into the groove of that there more and more each game. I’m afraid that is as close to the beach that I will get to you.”

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Tim 5 hours ago
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