THE run into the Super Series Championship play-offs is well and truly underway and current leaders Ayrshire Bulls will be out to make a statement at Goldenacre this weekend by toppling third placed (with games in hand) Heriot’s.
To do that and complete a regular season double over Ben Cairns’ men, the Millbrae outfit will have to bring physicality up front from minute one and one man who will be looking to help with that will be consistent second-rower Rory Jackson.
The 22-year-old has been linked to the Bulls ever since Super6/Series rugby began back in 2019 and he helped them win the 2021 Championship title and the 2023 Sprint.
During the Sprint earlier this year he scored a try against Heriot’s in a 26-26 draw in the regular campaign and, although he was not involved, Bulls then went on to beat the same opponents in the final.
Jackson and his pack-mates then played a big part in the win over Heriot’s earlier in the Championship campaign on their home turf, the Bulls racing into a 33-0 lead before it finished 33-21.
“The first half of that game was probably the best we have played all Championship so far,” Jackson said looking back on that game from August. “We were clinical and accurate in everything that we did for those 40 minutes and that is what we pride ourselves on.
“However, after the break Heriot’s showed how dangerous they can be and our levels slipped a bit and it is fair to say that we are still looking for that full 80 minute performance during the Championship.
“The two losses to Watsonians have frustrated us, we just were not at our best on those two days, but what has pleased us as a group is the way we have bounced back from those losses.
“Since the second one we have recorded home bonus point wins against Stirling Wolves and the Knights and now we want to kick on when we go to Edinburgh this weekend.
“We know that Heriot’s on their own ground will be a tough test, but if we are accurate and clinical in everything that we do and our strong bench can make an impact then I think we can get the desired result.”
As it stands, it looks like the play-offs come November will consist of the Bulls, Watsonians, Heriot’s and one other team, with the top three are battling it out for the two home semi-final spots just now.
Whatever happens, we are in for an exciting few weeks and Jackson, who missed last Friday’s 28-0 victory over the Southern Knights with a slight niggle, is really enjoying his rugby just now.
“The culture that has been created at the Bulls and the link up that we have with the main Ayr club is first class,” former Scotland under-20 cap Jackson explained.
“There are a core of experienced players within the squad who have been around since the start and set the tone for the standards that we have along with the coaching team.
“The way that they help the young guys coming through is excellent and I think that togetherness really helps us to try and be successful. It also helps having that togetherness in defeat, for example after we lost last year’s Championship final after extra-time to Watsonians the guys all socialised together rather than feeling sorry for ourselves and we have come back stronger this year as a result of that collective spirit.”
Jackson’s rugby journey began at local club Bishopton in the minis section, indeed he was there right at the start. “The minis was set up at the club in around 2009 and my dad, David, was one of the driving forces behind that,” Jackson, who started out as a No 8 before moving to second-row and also had a stint at 12 at school, said.
“He has been involved with the club for many years and still coaches youngsters at Bishopton now. I go down and help out when I can.
“Back when the minis was just starting it was always likely that I was going to get involved given dad’s involvement and I’m glad that I did. Rugby has been a massive part of my life ever since and it was there that I began to love it.
“As I progressed into senior school, I played for the club’s youth teams while I was at Park Mains High School in Erskine and the way Bishopton have embraced junior rugby over the years is great to see, a lot of people put in a lot of hard work.
“I went to regional trials at the end of my under-15 year and then played in the under-16 regional games for Glasgow.
“That helped to get me selected for Scotland under-16s when we headed down to a tournament in Wales and that was a great experience because it showed me things I had to work on to keep improving.”
It was around that time that Jackson came into contact with experienced coach Davie Wilson and it was through him that a move to Kelvinside Academy for his last two years at school came about.
“I really enjoyed my time at Kelvinside and in my first year there I was involved with the Scotland under-17s and then was with the under-18s for a tournament down in Gloucestershire the following year,” Jackson recounted about 2017 to 2019.
“That under-18s trip was a good one and I have special memories of beating Ireland right at the end of our final game.
“In the summer of 2019 after leaving school I was lucky enough to be awarded a Stage Three Academy contract [now the equivalent is the Senior Academy at Glasgow Warriors] and I was part of that for three years through the pandemic and out the other side.
“In pre-season of the 2021-22 season I managed to make my Warriors debut against Newcastle Falcons and that was a good moment.
“Since last summer I have been focusing on the Bulls while I am also working as a rugby coach with School of Hard Knocks [a charity which uses sport to tackle unemployment, crime and poor health] and I am really enjoying that and find it rewarding.”
Whilst part of the Academy, Jackson tore his hamstring in 2019-20, but then played for the Scotland under-20s in the Covid Six Nations of 2021 which was all played in Cardiff.