I'll admit. I wasn't always Paddy Jackson's biggest fan.
I think he was thrown in the deep end too soon by both Ulster and Ireland, and the hype surrounding him was excessive.
But he's changed my opinion of him with his play in the last six months. Since returning from the World Cup, I've seen what people were talking about several years ago. But unfortunately, Joe Schmidt hasn't.
Paddy Jackson has taken control up in Ulster. He no longer relies on Ruan Pienaar inside him, but Jackson is the one who controls a game, and runs the backline. The Ulster backline is firing at the moment, and we've seen Jackson come on on several occasions to change a game - most notably against Oyonnax in the Champions Cup.
He is in the form of his life, and is taking it to Ian Madigan in the battle to be Johnny Sexton's back-up.
Madigan for his part, isn't playing badly - but he's isn't displaying the authority and strut that Jackson is at the moment. But continuing to pick Madigan over Jackson on the bench behind Sexton doesn't make the sense it made last season.
The excuse given then was that Madigan is a better bench option because he covers more positions. Which is true, Madigan has experience playing 10, 12, and 15 - where as Jackson is predominantly a 10 - with a handful of games at 12. Schmidt hinted with that suggestion that Jackson would be considered to start over Madigan should Sexton go down injured. But in the last Six Nations, Ian Keatley was preferred to Jackson, who didn't initially make the squad for the Six Nations before recovering and making the World Cup 31.
But the excuse that Madigan covers more positions from the bench only works if you actually follow through with it. On the hour-mark in Ireland's game against England, Stuart McCloskey (playing inside centre) came off. Madigan is on the bench. presumably to cover 12 - because Zebo is covering the back-three. Bringing Zebo on for McCloskey would require an in game re-jig - which rarely goes well.
It was Zebo who was brought on, forcing Earls and Henshaw to change position. If Madigan isn't on the bench to cover 12, then the excuse that he covers more positions than Jackson is moot. It's time to reward the form of the Ulsterman, and stop treating him as badly as Tommy O'Donnell.
See Also: Plenty Of Fans Will Agree With Paddy Jackson After Most Frustrating Moment Of France Defeat
Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE