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'I didn't get stuck into players enough': Stockdale targets aerial improvement in Sydney

The winger has been working on his aerial ability over the last two weeks ahead of his return to the Test arena.

JACOB STOCKDALE HAS had longer than most to stew over a first defeat at Test level, so the build-up to tomorrow’s decider in Sydney and a return to the Ireland wing has been a particularly tedious and protracted affair for the 22-year-old.

Jacob Stockdale with Marika Koroibete After sitting out the second Test, Stockdale is back in the Ireland XV. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Stockdale’s run in Joe Schmidt’s side, which extended back to last November, was broken last week when he was given a watching brief in Melbourne, with Andrew Conway and then Jordan Larmour handed opportunities.

The Ulster man, named the Six Nations player of the tournament for his prolific try-scoring exploits during the championship, admits it was difficult to watch on from the stands as his team-mates produced a much-improved performance to level the series.

“It was incredibly hard, to be honest,” he said this week in Sydney. “Especially the way in which the guys won, you’re just dying to be part of the team. But I suppose the reasons for these tours are to give guys an opportunity and a bit of squad rotation so that was good to see.”

With Conway ruled out of this week through injury, Stockdale comes back into Schmidt’s XV as Ireland seek a famous series win on Aussie soil to cap a brilliant, Grand Slam-winning season and inject further impetus into next year’s World Cup preparations.

The return of the free-scoring Stockdale — the first Test was just the third occasion he failed to cross the whitewash in a green jersey — is one of five changes made by Schmidt, and the Lisburn native is understandably chomping at the bit to get back out there.

“These are the kind of games that you play rugby for, we’re definitely very excited for it,” he continued.

“Ireland hadn’t even won a Test on Australian soil in 39 years. It’s a bit of an opportunity to make history and it would be a very nice cherry on the top of a brilliant season with Ireland. It’s a massive game for all of us and the win only comes with the preparation and performance.”

A large part of Stockdale’s focus over the last fortnight has been working on his aerial game, something Jordan Larmour has spent a lot of time on as well, as Ireland look to combat the threat posed by the likes of Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete.

Stockdale’s height gives him an obvious advantage in this facet of the game, but contesting aerially with good technique is key, as evidenced by the likes of Rob Kearney.

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“The big thing for me in this Test is to be a bit more dominant in the air,” the Ulster winger explains.

Jacob Stockdale Stockdale pictured at the team hotel this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I felt like I really didn’t get stuck into players enough, I didn’t really attack the ball enough when it was in the air so that’s the thing I’m trying to work on this week, be real dominant.

“It’s something you have to practice, practice and practice. You don’t want to have to think about your technique when you’re going up for a ball, you want it to be as natural as possible and when you’re coming up against guys like Folau who are all pretty handy in the air, it makes a big difference when you’ve got your technique nailed on and you’re able to get up and attack the ball.”

Overall, Stockdale is relishing the challenge of a return to the Test arena at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium, particularly after experiencing the unfamiliar feeling of losing his first game with Ireland in the series opener.

“Yeah, that was tough,” he adds. “It was my first experience of coming in on a Monday and going, ‘oh flip’ we didn’t play that well and we lost. It was quite strange as I hadn’t experienced that before.

“It’s tougher to take but at the same time whenever you lose you’re a lot more motivated to right the wrongs. I’m looking forward to it.”

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