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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Bryan Keane/INPHO Ulster's Jacob Stockdale.
# Injury
'It's disappointing for everyone' - Ulster reflect on Stockdale loss
The Ireland winger is set to miss the rest of the season after ankle surgery.

ULSTER ASSISTANT COACH Roddy Grant says the entire organisation will “empathise” Jacob Stockdale after the Ireland winger’s season was all but confirmed to be over after he underwent ankle surgery on Monday.

The 25-year-old hasn’t played since Ulster’s win over Glasgow Warriors in the opening round of the United Rugby Championship back in September and that looks very likely to be his only action of the campaign having gone under the knife in London.

At the peak of his powers, Stockdale is a world class finisher and ranks sixth in Ireland’s all-time try scoring charts with 19 tries in just 35 caps, and this setback is undoubtedly a major blow for both province and country.

In his absence, Ulster have found themselves well served in the back three, with Robert Baloucoune, Mike Lowry and Ethan McIlroy turning in astounding performances against Northampton Saints at the weekend, but Grant admits they are looking forward to the day they have Stockdale back available again.

“It’s disappointing for everyone. It’s never nice for guys to have setbacks and knocks,” said Grant, who didn’t give any indication on whether John Cooney, Iain Henderson or Stuart McCloskey will be available for Saturday’s game against Clermont.

“But there’s plenty of pro rugby players who have had that so, that being said, guys will rally and sympathise and empathise. I hope he gets back quickly. He’ll get through it.

“Any of your top players, you want them fit. That’s probably something I’ve noticed more in the last two, three years. The good teams, you need your top players playing. Rugby nowadays seems to be more of an arms race in terms of players on the pitch.

“On the flipside, we have some very talented back three players. From the weekend, all of them were class. With that being said, it’s a hotly contested position in our squad anyway, and the guys that have come in have been playing brilliantly. If they’re all fit, regardless of the name, it’s selection headaches.

“You want your best players available and playing and pushing each other for places, so the ripple goes that deep. But you look at the weekend, young guys get chances. And that’s also pro sport: guys struggle and other guys play well, you want guys being pushed.”

The equation is simple for Ulster this week: beat Clermont at Kingspan Stadium and they will finish at least second seeds from Pool A in the Heineken Champions Cup, and better Racing 92′s league points from their final game against Northampton Saints and they finish top.

Kingspan Stadium hasn’t hosted a European knockout tie since that fated Saracens quarter-final in 2014 and while it is already guaranteed to host one game in the two-legged last-16, the benefit of playing at least their quarter-final in Belfast would be huge for the province.

That being said, finishing second may not necessarily yield the so-called ‘easier’ draw that it would suggest it might – in fact, if the last-16 was drawn from the current standings then Ulster would take on current European champions Toulouse.

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While Ugo Mola’s galacticos are likely to thump Cardiff Blues and move themselves out of seventh this weekend, that doesn’t even necessarily make Ulster’s task any easier as they could yet find themselves paired with Top 14 leaders Bordeaux-Begles, or possibly even fellow Irish province Connacht who have proven a stubborn opponent in recent years.

For his part, Grant isn’t trying to work out the permutations of what might be at the weekend, instead insisting: “You’ve got to play your own game and see what happens, it is what it is because we are straight into Scarlets so we can’t dwell on it.

“Personally, it doesn’t matter who we play next. They are all good teams and you have to play them at some stage. There are more things to worry about in life and this job. We just need to concentrate on winning our game.”

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