Jackson goes in to bat for Scotland's future

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The Independent Online

Ruaridh Jackson has been a long time coming as the Next Big Thing in Scottish rugby. It was in December 2008 that the then fledgling fly-half first showed his potential on a major stage, producing a stellar performance in Glasgow's 35-31 Heineken Cup defeat at Bath. He was just 20 and a debutant starter not just in Europe's premier club tournament but for Glasgow in any competition.

Two years and two months later, a fortnight after his 23rd birthday, Jackson finally gets his first start for Scotland today. After three caps as a replacement (against New Zealand and Samoa in November and against France three weeks ago) the Northampton-born, Aberdeen-raised former Scotland Under-17s cricketer has been given the chance as a starter for the Six Nations engagement with Ireland at Murrayfield.

It promises to be an intriguing test for the young man who has long been seen in Caledonian rugby circles as what Peter Kay would call "the garlic bread": the future. Injuries and the international reincarnation of Dan Parks have delayed his progress into Scotland's No 10 jersey, but now he has the opportunity to show he has the wherewithal to become the kind of dynamic force that Scotland have lacked in the pivotal position for some time – arguably since the days of the silken John Rutherford in the 1980s.

Like Rutherford, Jackson is a running fly-half with a natural instinct for hitting the gain-line, as he showed when he launched the counter-attack from deep that ultimately yielded the last-minute penalty he landed to beat Samoa at Pittodrie – prompting Rory Lawson, Scotland's captain that day, to hail him as "the king of Aberdeen".

Gregor Townsend was blessed with those instincts, too, but also with a penchant for the unorthodox, which was why the mercurial Galashiels man was periodically moved out to the centres, or out to the bench and out of the selection frame altogether.

Now Scotland's attack coach, Townsend pauses for thought when asked which Scotland fly-half of the last 25 years Jackson most resembles. "Yourself?" someone prompts. "No," he replies. "Ruaridh's a better passer than me – probably a better kicker as well. He's a different player, just like Dan Parks is a different player if you compare him to other 10s.

"Ruaridh deserves his opportunity because he's worked hard on his game. He's got much more of an all-round game than when he first broke on to the scene in that game against Bath. Let's not forget that he came on against the All Blacks and did very well, and he came on against Samoa and kicked the goal that won us the game. So he has played at international level."

Might he have the potential to be a great Scot of a stand-off at international level? "There's no reason why not," Townsend says. "He's got the talent, the temperament and the work ethic to get better and better."

That temperament was evident in the ice-cool swing of Jackson's right boot as the clocked ticked down to the end of the 80th minute in Arctic Aberdeen three months ago. There is a natural assurance and equanimity about him that bodes well for his future – and for his international examination from the off against the veteran Ronan O'Gara this afternoon.

"I think I've developed my game over the past year," Jackson says. "I'm pretty confident in my ability and I'm just looking to grab this oppor-tunity. Hopefully I can go out and do myself justice and help the team to a good game."

Scotland v Ireland is on BBC2 today, kick-off 3pm