Tony Ward says the Ireland players redeemed themselves with the comprehensive victory over Italy, while Paddy Jackson is now pushing Johnny Sexton as first choice outhalf.
Ireland got their Six Nations challenge back on track with a 63-10 thumping of Italy in Rome on Saturday and lie second in the standings after two rounds of games.
And following a disappointing start against Scotland the week previously, especially their insipid first-half performance, RTÉ analyst Ward says the team “delivered big time” for coach Joe Schmidt.
Ward said: “It was clear right from the off that they were going to announce their intent and take Italy on up front and that’s exactly what they did.
"I think Joe has a huge call to make. I just love the way Jackson is going about his business at the moment"
“There was an element of ‘you owe me one’ from the coach to the players and certainly the players delivered in spades.
“If you were to talk about a potential disaster before the game - as in not having your preparation fully done as Joe would have liked it...
“I mean compare that with losing your 100-cap captain before the game and bringing in an absolute rookie at hooker, Niall Scannell, who had an outstanding game – that had the potential to really knock them off track on Saturday but they delivered big time.
“It was a huge Irish performance in every way, right across the field.
“You may not have noticed Donnacha Ryan, but the difference he made up front...
“I thought Paddy Jackson was outstanding, the backrow were everywhere, the scrum was on top from the beginning and there was a confidence there that was certainly lacking at Murrayfield.
“Not losing the run of ourselves, Italian rugby is in an awful place, but we are on the way back into this championship certainly.”
Looking ahead to France, Ward singled out Jackson for particular praise, adding that the Ulster out half is now challenging Sexton for the number 10 jersey following two accomplished performances so far, something Schmidt has already acknowledged.
Ward, himself a former Irish outhalf, continued: “I don’t believe Jackson got the credit he deserved in Murrayfield, I thought he had a really outstanding game there aswell.
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“But because we lost, the natural reaction was ‘ah well, he’s only the second choice, we’ve got Sexton to come back’ and I fully understand that, and I think at this point in time Sexton is marginally ahead of Jackson.
“That said, I think Joe has a huge call to make. I just love the way Jackson is going about his business at the moment.
“He’s a real solid presence in the number 10 position and he’s linking it all together and into the bargain – nine kicks out of nine, one very ropey one, but he’s a player with confidence high.
“He’s in a good place, the team’s in a good place and Joe has the type of problem he wants for the French game, certainly.”