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Smiling assassin Stockdale relishing more and more time on the big stage

‘It gives you a taste for big-time rugby. Once you get a taste of it, you want to get it again and again and again.’

Sean Farrell reports from Carton House

Jacob Stockdale celebrates scoring a try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

HE’S ONE OF those players, Jacob Stockdale.

A play-with-a-smile-on-his-face kinda guy.

Just as a sudden release of pent-up aggression from a different type of character will feed into the mood of many onloookers, there is an infectious joy that comes from seeing a Stockdale try.

The 21-year-old has had plenty of reason to smile over the past year, regularly hitting high enough standards to fast-track him from provincial breakthrough to near-certain Test starter.

There have been bumps on the road too, though. Not many, but enough to make that smile subside for a day or so.

Stockdale recently referred to the seasonal inter-pro loss away to Leinster as one of the worst days of his career. A blip in an otherwise meteoric rise, he took the result hard.

“Leinster was a tough one to take for me. I’m a very competitive person, I hate not performing well,” the wing said at Carton House today, admitting that those closest to him can bear the brunt of his frustration.

“If you ask my family, I won’t talk to them for a day and a half after something like that. It was tough.

“But after that day and a half, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and just focus on La Rochelle. I told myself I needed a big performance and come back with a vengeance. And I think I did that.”

Jacob Stockdale Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Undoubtedly. Stockdale was back displaying his superior finishing talents as Ulster played out of their skins to defeat the much-vaunted Top14 side. Unfortunately for his province, an early dead leg away to Wasps a week later meant he was unable to influence the result on a horrible evening in Coventry.

Back in full training after enjoying a watching brief in the warm weather training camp in Spain last week, Stockdale should be able to look forward to reforging a back three partnership with Keith Earls that proved incredibly potent during the summer tour.

“Hopefully Keith will be on the right wing and leave the left to me,” says Stockdale, half joking, half not, but entirely grateful to have experienced heads placed around him.

“He is in phenomenal form, lightning at the moment and I think he is sure to start.

“He’s a brilliant player to be alongside. As a young guy, he wants to impart some of his wisdom on to you. The same with Rob Kearney in the autumn, having two guys who are really experienced who can keep you right.”

“Robbie (Henshaw) is a really great player to have inside. He always has a cool head on him, he reads the game well and that’s great for a winger to have. He can put pressure on guys’ attacking on the inside so that makes my reads so much easier… for a young guy coming in, seeing that is really awesome.”

Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

While Stockdale’s attitude and face remain entirely fresh, it’s to his credit that there are few doubts over his ability to slot in and start a tough Six Nations Test in Paris. There is no great heart to be taken from his playing record in France – La Rochelle and Clermont – just his time in green.

“Not only getting that game-time and opportunity to play big games,” he says of his four caps since June.

It also gives you a taste for big-time rugby. Once you get a taste of it, you want to get it again and again and again. That drives you more to try and get your name on the team-sheet every week.

“It’s important to learn how the guys around you like to play and operate. We are trying out different combinations. It is a big week getting our detail right.

“I am back in training now and going well… well, well enough.”

Perhaps it was the prospect of seeing a proflific try-scorer heading to Paris on a debut Six Nations campaign, or maybe it was because the closest challenger to Ireland’s try-scoring record (Tommy Bowe) will hang up his boots at the end of the season, but the name and deeds of Brian O’Driscoll was put to Stockdale.

Do you remember His hat-trick in Paris?

“Flip, what year would that have been?”

He remembers seeing it, though mostly thanks to YouTube. Born in April ’96, the match was played before Stockdale turned four.

“Not live, no. I have seen videos and highlights since.”

With four tries to his name through four caps and plenty of years left to run, maybe Stockdale could be the man to trouble O’Driscoll’s record of 46 Test tries.

There’s a long way to go, of course, a lot of teeth and gumshields to be shown along the way.

“I love playing rugby and love scoring tries even more, so I do.

“If I do manage to score a try in the Six Nations, it will probably be my biggest smile yet.”

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