A GAUGE of how well Ruaridh Jackson has done for Glasgow Warriors since returning to the club a few weeks before the start of the current season can be gleaned from the distinct lack of anxiety about the prospect of Stuart Hogg being very close to match fit for Saturday’s Champions Cup opener away to Exeter Chiefs but probably not quite ready yet to reclaim the number 15 jersey.
Jackson played almost all his rugby during his first six years at the Warriors between 2008 and 2014 at stand-off, but has shown that he is a far more accomplished all-round rugby player than many have given him credit for in the past by not only filling the gap created by Hogg’s unavailability at full-back, but excelling in all six of the team’s games so far this season.
He is the only member of the Warriors squad to have played all of every match, and was praised by both captain Ryan Wilson and skills coach Mike Blair after a stand-out performance against the Toyota Cheetahs last last weekend, when he had a crucial role in the creation of three of the team’s four tries – including an 80 yard break off an interception to tee-up Callum Gibbins’ second score.
“Ruaridh has been outstanding. The effort he puts in to games is amazing. He’s got some engine on him,” said Wilson.
“It’s not a position he’s massively familiar with. He’s obviously played it a bit more over the last couple of seasons, but he’s doing a great job leadership-wise, communication-wise and in terms of what he’s actually putting out on the pitch, so he’s been excellent,” echoed Blair.
Jackson has ridden the roller-caster of professional rugby long enough to know that it would be a mistake to take too much notice of the plaudits being sent in his direction at the moment, and chuckles when asked about whether he fancies a crack at the Scotland full-back slot next month.
“I think Hoggy’s back then anyway,” he retorted. “I am just loving being back. If I get that reward in November, then that is great but if not I am happy to keep playing and enjoying it.”
“If it is playing full-back then I am happy, and if I get a shot at ten I will be happy there, too – but we have a lot of strength in depth at ten so this is where I am needed at the moment.”
“I can’t remember [the last time I played six games in a row] but it has been nice putting a string of games together, that’s for sure. It gives you confidence playing week-in and week-out. I am feeling good for it and hopefully – touch wood – the body is holding up so far. There are a few aches and pains but that comes with the territory.”
Forget about November, the immediate concern for Jackson and his team-mates is, of course, this Saturday’s trip to Devon to take on the English champions. While defeat at Sandy Park would not kill the team’s chances from progressing from perhaps the trickiest pool in the competition stone dead, it will leave them a mountain to climb.
“It doesn’t get much harder than down at Sandy Park. They are coming off the back of the championship last year. They are a fit team, a physical team and have a really good squad that has a tightness about them. They have won 11 games on the trot at home so it is going to be a really big challenge for us,” says Jackson.
“I have played at Sandy Park a few times. I love playing there. It is a good track and the atmosphere is good fun. The crowd really get into it. Even if it is against you it is good. Hopefully we can get down the right end and quieten their chants down a bit.”
“We had them in the Heineken Cup a few years ago [in 2013-14] and we got the win home and away, so we know that we can beat them. Their team has probably not changed all that much, although we have both won championships since then.”
“We know it is going to be tough. They are a confident team, hard to break down and with a good set piece, so we have to go down there and front-up. Hopefully. the forwards will give us a good platform so we can fire some shots and give it our best.”