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Jackman To Grasp Opportunity With Both Hands

Jackman To Grasp Opportunity With Both Hands

Almost ten years after his first involvement in an Ireland senior squad, Bernard Jackman has been handed his first start for his country and he intends to make the most of it.

Jackman is sure to be bursting with pride when he takes to the Stade de France pitch next Saturday, having beaten off Ulster’s Rory Best for the hooker berth.

Many people will delight in seeing the Coolkenno-born forward in the Ireland number 2 jersey, not least the variety of teams he has played for and coached – he is currently coach of Leinster League Division Two side Coolmine.

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Jackman toured South Africa with the Ireland squad in 1998 but failed to gain a cap and had to wait until the 2005 summer tour to Japan to make his first two appearances off the bench.

Having rejoined Leinster, his impressive provincial form booked him a seat on the plane to Argentina last summer, where he gained two more caps before earning his fifth as a replacement in last week’s Six Nations win over Italy.

Jackman’s international breakthrough has been a long time coming and but for a moment of stark realisation a couple of seasons ago, he would be nowhere near the Irish squad this week.

The real turning point in his career arrived in November 2006 when he travelled over to his former club Sale Sharks to play for a youthful Leinster ‘A’ side in a friendly match.

“The previous season I was coming back from breaking my leg. I was only third choice hooker at Leinster. They had brought in a new hooker (Harry Vermaas) and I was struggling to make an impact,” he explained.

“I went over to play Sale, who I’d left three or four years previously. There I was coming back again to play for Leinster ‘A’ with academy kids. I was meeting some of the players I had played with who were playing in the Premiership every week.

“That was frustrating and I left there saying, ‘right, I have three months to turn around my career,’ because it had gone nowhere.

“Thankfully, I have turned it around and I’m really enjoying my rugby at the minute and that’s probably the key. I realise how fortunate I am to be playing for my country and for a quality team like Leinster.”

Speaking just hours after he learnt of his selection for the French match, Jackman is determined to make the most of the situation and bed himself into the side.

“I’ve been in the situation many times over the last 10 years where I’ve been waiting for my name to be called out only to hear nothing.

“So because of that I’ll be taking nothing for granted. I toured South Africa and have missed out on selection a lot of times since.

“When I heard I was in the team for France it was such a relief. I’ve been a slow developer and now I’m here I intend staying here as long as I can.

“Hopefully I’ll take the opportunity on Saturday and play to my full potential and perform.”

As well as improving his lineout throwing and all-round game, Jackman had developed into a very dynamic ball carrier in the mould of former Ireland captain Keith Wood.

His ball-carrying ability, which sees him use his deceptive speed and added bulk, was certainly an important factor in him getting the nod from Eddie O’Sullivan.

“I love ball carrying. I see it as being one of the primal parts of rugby – getting the ball and running at the opposition,” he said.

“It’s something I do a lot for Leinster and Eddie (O’Sullivan) wants me to do it for Ireland as well. I really want to make an impact this weekend.

“For ball carrying you need a bit of size and speed but it’s mainly about how fast you run onto the ball.

“If you can time your run so that you hit the ball at 100 per cent flat out, you’ll get over the gain-line.

“Sometimes it’s not very glamorous – you might make 10 carries yet make only 10 yards – but as long as you recycle quickly and don’t turn the ball over, you’ve done your job.”

The man known as ‘Berch’ is quick to dish out the plaudits when he considers how far he has come since first picking up a rugby ball at Newbridge College in Kildare.

“Going to Sale was my first opportunity to be a professional player and the set-up over there was very good. It was the same time as Jason Robinson joined and we had a really great fitness guy in Marty Hume. I put on two-and-a-half stone over there and really developed my power.

“Connacht was also great for me as I got to play a lot of games in the European Challenge Cup against French sides who had strong scrums and I learned a lot there.

“As a player, I owe most to Brent Pope who coached me at Clontarf. He really converted me into a ball-carrying player.”

Chuckling as he recalls the ‘You’ll never play for Ireland!’ chants directed at him by Munster fans earlier this season, the 31-year-old is clearly reveling in the Leinster set-up.

His approach to lineout throwing, not always noted as a particularly strong facet of his game, has changed and he insists that second row Leo Cullen, Leinster’s lineout organiser this season, has been “a great help.”

He added: “Every time I get to a lineout now I have a set routine which is the same whether I’m with a throwing coach or playing in the Heineken Cup five yards from our line.

“The same approach all the time. It gives me enough time to get the heart rate down and focus in the targets and nothing is going to change.”