Jacob Stockdale in training today. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Taking Stock

'Not many expected my name to be on the Lions squad but that does not stop you being disappointed'

Jacob Stockdale wants to prove his point in this month’s double header against Japan and the United States.

THE LAST TIME the British and Irish Lions jetted off on tour, Ireland – just like now – busied themselves with a couple of dates against Japan and the USA.

This was the month Joe Schmidt introduced us to Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan and Andrew Porter. Now, four years on, Ryan is Ireland captain, Porter in rehab after a foot injury denied him a trip with the Lions, while Stockdale is seeking to prove himself all over again.

If that seems like a stupid statement to make, given how Stockdale has already chalked up 18 tries in 34 internationals, well you just have to remember how merciless an industry rugby can be.

Had the Lions toured in 2018 rather than this year, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Stockdale lighting up that year’s Six Nations the way Louis Rees Zammit illuminated this one.

Time moves on, though. Time is uncaring about what someone did a few years ago, especially when someone new is on the scene.

It’s why Stockdale was taking stock, so to speak. Yes, this season – 11 months-long and counting – has been “mentally draining” and yes he could do with a break. But the last thing he needed was to be forgotten about, or worse, to mope around at home watching the South African tour.

louis-rees-zammit Rees Zammit has lit up this year's 6 Nations. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Obviously I was disappointed to not get selected for the Lions,” he said, “but when you consider I hadn’t played four out of five Six Nations matches, and when you add in that other guys in the back three were performing very, very well, I was probably a bit of an outside shout to get selected.

“I don’t think too many people were expecting my name on that list but that does not stop you being disappointed when you don’t get the nod.

“It is the kind of thing I have to park. I’m not there, I have to focus on something else and luckily these games were scheduled.”

If he needed something personal to zone in on, a glance at the leading try-scorers in Irish rugby history would soothe his sore at missing out on South Africa. Despite having just 25 candles on his most recent birthday cake, only six Irishmen have scored more international tries.

One of those, Girvan Dempsey, is just one ahead of him. Shane Horgan, veteran of 65 games compared to Stockdale’s 34, has 21. It’s only a matter of time before the Ulsterman catches up.

Still, he was somewhat shocked when he was told earlier today that he was the most experienced member of the backline that Andy Farrell has selected to play Japan this Saturday.

“It’s nice not to be the baby anymore,” he said, before remembering himself. “I’m obviously still not the finished product. I want to be improving and evolving as a player, the best way to do that is to take every opportunity that comes your way.”

It’s one further reason why he doesn’t wish to whinge about an outrageous schedule that saw him return to pre-season this time last year, that as well as his awareness of the greater sacrifices everyone else has made in the last 12 months.

“We’re as lucky to be actually playing rugby,” he said. “During the first lockdown, it was nice to get the recharged for three or four weeks and then after that, you were dying to get back playing. So anytime it feels mentally fatiguing, a bit draining, I go back to that initial feeling of how much we were missing rugby during lockdown.”

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