Declan Kidney has taken a massive gamble on uncapped Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson for Sunday’s crunch Six Nations clash with Scotland.
The 21-year-old Ulster star has been preferred to Munster veteran Ronan O’Gara as Jonny Sexton’s replacement for the must win game in Edinburgh.
Kidney, whose job is currently on the line, has also handed Ulster winger Luke Marshall his first start in the championship as he goes for broke.
Jackson’s selection has provoked serious debate in Irish rugby circles but the youngster is adamant he is ready for the challenge despite a poor performance for his province in the Heineken Cup final defeat to Leinster last season.
Jackson told RTE: “I’ve come a long way since the Heineken Cup final. I’ll be more used to dealing with nerves and don’t think I’ll be as nervous.
“After the Heineken Cup final I forgot about rugby for a while. I took a break, came back for pre-season and knuckled down.
“I’m excited and looking forward to getting out there against Scotland. I was very surprised to be selected, I had butterflies in my stomach, but then I calmed down.
“I’m really glad I’ve got my chance now. This will be the biggest game I’ve played in.”
Kidney has confirmed that Jackson will take on kicking duties against Scotland even though South African Ruan Pienaar does that job for Ulster.
Jackson added: “I kicked for Ulster at the start of the season and felt as though it was a matter of keeping Ruan at bay for as long as possible.
“He’s one of the best kickers in the world and has 10 or 15 metres on me.
“I sat down with Ulster coach Mark Anscombe and he said he wanted Ruan to kick. There’s not much you can do about that, but I’ve still been kicking in training most days.”
The 21-year-old also insisted he is ready to meet the challenge presented by this selection as the curtain appears to be coming down on O’Gara’s distinguished career.
Jackson said: “We’re all competitive rugby players and everyone wants the starting jersey.
“I know I’m young and coming through, but eventually that’s where I want to get to.”
Ireland coach Kidney has also picked Tom Court, Donncha O’Callaghan and Keith Earls as he makes five changes to the team which lost 12-6 to England.
Ireland team to play Scotland: R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); T Court (Ulster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), D Ryan (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), D Toner (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).