'We look after each other and his mates have been strong for him'
London Irish head coach Les Kiss has shed light on the growing influence of ex-Ireland out-half Paddy Jackson in recent years at the Gallagher Premiership club. The career of the now 30-year-old half-back was at a crossroads four years ago when the IRFU terminated his contract at Ulster just months after Kiss himself had departed his director of rugby role at the province.
Kiss soon linked up with Declan Kidney, his old Ireland Grand Slam boss, to take over at London Irish in March 2018 at the tail end of a season in which the club was relegated from the top flight. In the meantime, Jackson headed to France to continue his career at Perpignan before he took up an offer from London Irish to join them in the summer of 2019 following their return to the Premiership after a single season in the second tier of English rugby.
Under the director of rugby Kidney and head coach Kiss, Jackson has since become one of the most consistent performers in the Premiership and this season – his third at the now Brentford-based club – has been his most industrious yet as London Irish have challenged to make the end-of-season playoffs in the league while also progressing to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals where they travel to Toulon this Sunday.
Along the way, Jackson has started a whopping 22 Premiership games for Irish this season, a number up from 19 last season and 13 in his first season at the club. He was deployed on a number of occasions during that first Premiership campaign as the starting full-back but has since made the No10 jersey his own in the past two seasons, a development that has greatly pleased Kiss.
“He has done well,” said Kiss when asked by RugbyPass about the influence Jackson now wields at Irish. “We are a good team, we look after each other and his mates have been strong for him. He has grown with that and they have got a lot of respect for him and he respects what they do for him.
“When I was with Deccie (before) we brought him into the international team (in 2012/13) with Ireland. He has always been a sort of mature lad but what he has is more understanding about how the whole pack and the backline work together now. Early on you are a player who plays with your backline. Now he knows how to play with his forward pack a lot better, put them on the front foot a bit more, knows how to play with his outside men a bit better. He knows how to demand the communications that he requires.
“He is more a general now whereas before he used to just be good and play with the parts that were made for him. Now he sort of designs the parts around him. He has really grown to understand how he can be a good general.
“There is an art, a craft to be able to say work hard forwards but I will look after you as well if you know what I mean. Backs, I need you to be stretching the opposition and have a work rate that I can work with and they will do it because there is a great trust. He has got a great way of being able to put that across now in terms of how we play our game.”
It is widely accepted in Premiership circles that Jackson is at the top of his game with Irish but Kiss reckons there is even better to come. “He is still not fully satisfied, Paddy, but the fact that he has seen the team grow to a point at any given time if he starts pulling plays that he can create some magic around the edges and put people away.
“He has enjoyed the fact that our game is fluent and it’s I don’t want to say it is a flair-based game because we are about going forward first but I think he has enjoyed the fact that he has been able to play with space a lot more easily than he would have been in the past.”
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