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'With the Ireland U18s, I was eight tries in five games, so I'm dropping off now!'

21-year-old Jacob Stockdale has scored eight tries in his first seven Tests for Ireland.

EIGHT TRIES IN seven Tests is prodigious by any standards.

Indeed, if we were speaking about a 21-year-old All Blacks wing scoring at this rate in his first seven international games, there is little doubt the hype would be at alarming levels.

Jacob Stockdale has certainly been picking up plaudits for this finishing excellence in recent weeks, although his defensive game has raised eyebrows on a number of occasions and perhaps stunted the excitement around his attacking qualities.

Jacob Stockdale celebrates after scoring his second try Stockdale celebrates his second try against Wales. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Even Stockdale’s game-clinching intercept try on Saturday against Wales has been questioned, with some pointing out that he could have very easily given away a try if he didn’t pick off the ball.

Nothing ventured…

Stockdale certainly doesn’t lack in confidence and although he says his achievements at such a young age have been unexpected – his target was to play in the Six Nations by the time he turned 23 – there is no doubting his self-belief.

In the case of that intercept, Stockdale didn’t pause to consider that there might be risk involved, instead backing his instincts.

“I kinda wasn’t thinking, ‘should I do this, should I not?’ I saw he [Gareth Ascombe] was going to throw a long pass and I thought I could get into the space and get it.

“I still thought that if it went over my head, I could still have read it and changed my direction to get out and defend it.

“We had really good pressure from the interior defence, I think it was Chris Farrell and he put a lot of pressure on Gareth Anscombe and got into the path. I knew they would have to go over the top and luckily he threw it over the top and I was in the spot to get it.”

Stockdale backed himself in that case, as he has done several other times, including for his sizzling second try against Italy in round two of the Six Nations.

On other occasions, his patience in holding the width has been rewarded, as for his first try against Wales on the end of a sublime Johnny Sexton pass.

Jacob Stockdale scores their first try despite Leigh Halfpenny Stockdale crosses for his first score. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When we had penalty advantage, we knew that their wingers like to jam in, so we knew there was space,” says Stockdale.

“With the advantage, we could throw it without risking the intercept, so I had an inkling it was coming. When he threw it, I was pretty pleased.”

The Ulsterman’s four tries in three games leave him at the top of the 2018 Six Nations try-scorers list and he could already be eyeing up a place in Ireland’s top 10 all-time list, which Ronan O’Gara props up on 16 tries.

“It’s not a bad start to my international career,” says Stockdale. “I think the ball just keeps popping up in the right areas. I’m getting the rewards for that.

“My goal and plan was to play Six Nations by the time I was 23. That got accelerated with Simon Zebo going to France and I’m pretty happy with how I’m taking my opportunities so far.”

Still so inexperienced and learning rapidly, Stockdale remains reliant on more senior figures around him in the Ireland team.

Rob Kearney has been an important presence in terms of backfield coverage and although he was only winning his third cap last weekend, outside centre Farrell was also an influence against Wales.

“Chris came in with big shoes to fill in terms of Robbie [Henshaw],” says Stockdale.

“Robbie’s chat in defence and in attack is really good. Chris came in and did as good a job if not better. That’s the big part of his game. He’s really fit and that allows him to chat to guys either side of him.”

Jacob Stockdale with Liam Williams Stockdale is working hard to become a complete wing. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The challenge of stepping up to the Six Nations as a first-choice Ireland player has been thrilling for former Wallace High School student Stockdale, but there are heavy demands at this level too.

Working hard on his defensive game is a big part of that and Joe Schmidt has pushed Stockdale to have his detailed homework done for every opponent.

“It’s just how to survive at the top level of rugby,” says Stockdale. “You learn a lot about yourself and how you train, how you work when you’re not on the rugby pitch. That’s the biggest thing.

“There’s a lot more behind the scenes that I had to learn which I didn’t do before. My preparation before the game, knowing how the opposition attack, knowing my opposite man inside out.

“That’s stuff I wouldn’t have really done before I came into the set-up. It’s something that’s driven by Joe and the senior players in the squad.”

Stockdale will keep improving as a defender but there is no doubting his try-scoring ability. If he can keep this pace up over the coming years, it won’t be long before he’s looking up that all-time Irish list and setting his sights on the likes of Keith Earls, Denis Hickie, Tommy Bowe and Brian O’Driscoll.

So while he’s on a hot streak, Stockdale isn’t accepting his current scoring rate.

“With the Ireland U18s, I think I was eight in five games, so I was. So yeah, I’m dropping off now!”

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Murray Kinsella

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