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Intercept specialist Stockdale wary of Russell traps

‘If he sees you going for it, he’ll let you think you’re going to have it, and then he’ll put the ball past you.’

Stockdale scorches away to score the opener against Scotland last year.
Stockdale scorches away to score the opener against Scotland last year.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

YOUR FAVOURITE JACOB Stockdale try probably involves a chip over the top, a show of pace and strength to muscle ahead of opponents to reach the loose ball and score.

But the prolific Ulster wing has made the intercept try every bit as much a trademark in his highlight-reel.

Of his seven tries in last year’s Grand Slam run, three came directly from the pass of an opponent, including one from Scotland’s Peter Horne.

Source: Guinness Six Nations/YouTube

The combination of Ireland’s defensive line-speed, Stockdale’s instinct and powerful long strides to spring him out of the blocks help him continually get into a position to put a hand on any loose pass hung up ahead of him.

With Finn Russell the opposition 10 on Saturday, the odds of seeing such a ball increase.  The Racing 92 playmaker often takes a thrilling and cavalier attitude in attack, with passes designed to skip or lure defenders out.

However, just as Joe Schmidt stressed the need to not chase the Championship, the Ireland wing is acutely aware of the danger of shooting out of Andy Farrell’s defensive structure without hitting the mark.

“Once you start going looking for intercepts it can be a pretty dangerous game, because Finn Russell is a very smart player, he’s very intuitive,” said Stockdale after today’s team announcement in Maynooth.

He’s definitely the kind of player that if he sees you going for it, he’ll let you think you’re going to have it, and then he’ll put the ball past you, or in behind you.

“You just can’t go chasing intercepts, and you just have to, hopefully, grab the one that becomes available throughout the game. For me it’s just about making sure that I defend well, connect with the backline and the forwards around me. And then if the opportunity arises then I definitely plan on taking it.”

“Every time you play, you want to put the opposition number 10 under as much pressure as possible. If you let Finn Russell control the game, he is one of the most dangerous players in the world. He’s a class player.”

Rob Kearney and Jacob Stockdale Kearney and Stockdale will hope to work to limit Russell's influence with the boot on Saturday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Stockdale doesn’t need prompting to bring up his stand-out error from the loss to England, when a crunching hit from Jack Nowell prompted him to spill the ball behind his try-line and in front of a grateful Elliot Daly, but the 22-year-old is intent on taking on every lesson possible from the experience.

After all, with 15 caps to his name (and 12 tries) England was just the second time Stockdale sampled the taste of defeat at international level.

You learn probably more from losing than you do winning. For me personally that’s a massive point: I don’t want that to ever happen again. So I’m going to work twice as hard to make sure it doesn’t.

“So there’s a lot to learn from last week and a lot to be excited about going forward.”

He adds: “We know we’re not the finished product, and I don’t think anybody here has ever claimed us to be.

“So we’re still trying to work and still trying to improve.”

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Sean Farrell

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