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Stockdale made just his second start at 15 for Ireland on Saturday.
Stockdale made just his second start at 15 for Ireland on Saturday.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Stockdale shows kicking quality but errors prove costly on tough night in Paris

The 24-year-old made his second start in the number 15 shirt as Andy Farrell’s side came up short.
Nov 2nd 2020, 8:29 PM 36,268 49

JACOB STOCKDALE MADE his first big start at fullback for Ireland in Paris on Saturday night. 

He had worn the number 15 shirt the weekend before against Italy in a bonus-point win for Ireland, showing some promising signs, but was always likely to face a far more demanding test versus the French.

Though the 24-year-old delivered several examples of his athleticism and demonstrated his excellent left-footed kicking, a number of handling errors pockmarked his performance.

Previous fullback incumbent Jordan Larmour is missing this autumn, while Ulster’s Will Addison also remains sidelined – one of the main reasons Stockdale has been playing at 15 for his province recently. Munster’s Joey Carbery, another potential option at fullback, is also out injured indefinitely.

Ireland boss Andy Farrell has other options in his squad in Hugo Keenan – used on the left wing in his first two Ireland Tests – and uncapped Munster man Shane Daly. Right wing Andrew Conway does not appear to be considered as a 15 for province or country, though he has previous experience in the position.

It will be fascinating to see if Farrell continues with Stockdale, previously Ireland’s first-choice left wing, at fullback in the upcoming Autumn Nations Cup as the now-eligible James Lowe comes into contention for the number 11 shirt. 

Farrell will be picking through Stockdale’s performance in Paris with a fine-tooth comb as he looks to make his decision, and here’s what he will see. 

Stockdale’s first involvement in the game was a left-footed clearance from inside his own 22.

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Conor Murray has passed back into the 22 so Stockdale can’t kick directly into touch, but he gets good length on his kick to land it in France’s half of the pitch.

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Stockdale’s big left boot is certainly very useful for Ireland in these ‘exit’ situations.

When he’s on the wing, Stockdale’s job is to chase kicks on the edge but Ireland have used his left boot well in the last two games.

Stockdale’s next job is to field a box kick from Antoine Dupont, which he does cleanly without any direct contest.

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Andrew Conway [yellow above] runs a line off Stockdale’s right shoulder after the fullback fields the ball, calling for a short pass, but Stockdale opts to carry himself and is met with a strong tackle by François Cros and Charles Ollivon.

Ireland kick clear through Murray.

Just after the Ireland scrum-half has missed a long-range penalty attempt, Stockdale receives the French 22m restart and passes to Sexton…

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… who launches a garryowen for Stockdale to chase.

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Stockdale does very well on the chase, slaloming in between the French players looking to subtly impede him and getting up into a contest with opposite number Anthony Bouthier to bat the ball back for Ireland.

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The good work from Stockdale nearly results in Ireland regaining possession in a promising area of the pitch but CJ Stander loses the bouncing ball forward as France hooker Julian Marchand collides with him.

Reacting to the turnover, Stockdale turns and signals for left wing Keenan to drop into the backfield along with Sexton and Conway.

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An exchange of kicks follows and Stockdale has dropped into his backfield position by the time Dupont launches a box kick down the right-hand side.

The ball looks like it’s going to go directly out into touch on the full so Stockdale understandably doesn’t jump to compete for it, but France right wing Vincent Rattez does.

Rattez’s left foot is on the touchline as he leaps…

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… to bat the ball back infield.

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Clearly, Rattez is in touch but Law 18.12 (d) tells us that the ball is not in touch if “a player who is in touch, kicks or knocks the ball, but does not hold it, provided it has not reached the plane of touch.”

So the key question is whether the ball has reached the plane of touch, which is very difficult to know based on this camera angle, which was, typically, the only one shown on the French TV broadcast.

Assistant referee Matthew Carley is directly in line with the incident.

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He doesn’t believe the ball has crossed the plane of touch and play continues as Marchand gathers off Rattez’s intervention.

As France play infield to a carrying pod, Stockdale has returned to his backfield slot in Ireland’s defensive system.

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France swing the ball wide to their left, where Sexton misses a tackle on Bouthier to suddenly leave Ireland exposed as the French fullback cleverly steps inside Sexton and throws a pass wide to Gaël Fickou in space.

Tighthead prop Andrew Porter, who has started much closer to the ruck, has to sweep across in a bid to deal with Fickou but the French wing’s superb footwork sits down both Porter and Murray, who has – rather unusually – been sweeping behind the frontline.

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Fickou gets outside both Irishmen and then has Dupont running a typically excellent support line on his inside, as Stockdale now tries to make up huge ground across the pitch.

Stockdale might wonder if he could have started working to his right just a little earlier here, even if he would have needed to work wonders to stop a score.

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Dupont obviously has huge space to finish and Stockdale is naturally wary of getting stepped back on his inside shoulder for a score under the posts, but even still will be disappointed only to have slapped at the France scrum-half.

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With Stockdale not getting a tackle attempt on, Dupont slides in but gets back to his feet in the in-goal area and eats off a couple more metres for an easier conversion.

The Ireland fullback makes his second carry of the game in the 12th minute after receiving another long Dupont box kick.

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With France’s kick chase in good order, there isn’t any clear opportunity and Stockdale steps back off his left foot to power in between two French forwards.

There’s another carry two minutes later but Stockdale might reflect that he could have passed in this instance with France down to 14 men due to Bouthier’s sin-binning.

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Stockdale has Keenan [yellow above] outside him calling for the ball, while scrum-half Murray [red] is working ahead of the ball pre-empting a linebreak.

Rattez is just out of shot, closing up from the backfield onto Keenan but even still, the Ireland wing would want this ball in his hands, giving him a one-on-one chance with a bit of space and possible inside support.

It’s the kind of chance Stockdale craves when he’s on the wing but he opts to keep the ball himself here, ducking back to the inside of Virimi Vakatawa.

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Ireland do win a penalty two phases later and the subsequent pressure in the France 22 eventually yields a Cian Healy try.

Ireland use Stockdale’s left boot on the ensuing exit after France’s restart.

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He makes a superb connection to hammer the ball deep into France’s half and underline just what a weapon his left foot can be.

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France respond to Stockdale’s effort with a long kick of their own but Dupont’s strike rolls dead and hands Ireland an attacking scrum on the French 10-metre line.

They run a two-phase strike play featuring a dink from Murray [white below] from the base of a ruck but the timing appears to be off from Mike Catt’s attack.

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Stockdale [yellow] is clearly designated to chase from the left-hand side of the ruck but never really gets close to the ball, while Sexton [red] comes from the other side but is initially impeded by three of his own forwards, who are dummying as if to carry.

Dupont [pink] reads the play well to drop off the defensive line and gather the ball on the bounce before Tadhg Beirne is penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown. It’s a wasted chance for Ireland from a decent position.

With the French attacking in the 29th minute, Stockdale is called into backfield action again. 

A smart scrum play puts out-half Romain Ntamack [yellow below] in space with two men outside him, meaning Stockdale begins to close up on Rattez, who is out of shot below.

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Ntamack then cleverly nudges a long grubber to Stockdale’s inside, forcing him to turn back in and retreat to gather it.

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It’s unclear if Stockdale actually knocks the ball on here but he does spill it on the ground as he attempts to scoop it up.

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Repeated viewings suggest the ball comes backwards off his hand, then forward off his boot – which appears to be how the match officials viewed it live.

Stockdale dives down onto the ground as he gathers the loose ball, ensuring that France can’t win the scraps.

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Unfortunately for Ireland, Stockdale doesn’t do that when he finds himself in a similar situation just over a minute later.

The fumble above underlines how slippery the ball is with the rain pelting down in Paris, something that was difficult to appreciate watching on TV unless the directors went to specific angles.

Still, Stockdale will be extremely disappointed with what came next.

Initially, he works well in the backfield to cover all the way across from right to left as Keenan [yellow below] is required in the frontline defence.

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Ireland will be disappointed with their frontline defence here. 

Murray [red below] does enough on the inside to jockey out onto Vakatawa but Keenan [yellow] has already decided to shoot in on the France centre from outside.

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Keenan is looking to make a dominant ball-and-all tackle but is beaten by Vakatawa’s excellent catch-pass skills under pressure as he shifts the ball to Rattez outside.

Murray covers out onto Rattez but the France wing puts in a clever grubber kick down the right that Stockdale’s earlier good work has left him well-positioned to deal with it.

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Stockdale attempts to scoop the ball up while front-on, staying on his feet, just as it lands to take another hop directly in front of him.

It slips up through his attempted grasp and bounces off his right leg and forward, suddenly creating a very dangerous situation as France flood forward on the chase.

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The fumble itself is obviously an error but Stockdale will feel he could have reacted better, immediately throwing himself down onto the ball.

Instead, he stands and has a second grab at it just as Cros sticks his right foot onto the ball and nudges ahead. With the French flanker barrelling forward to get a second nudge on, Caelan Doris makes an instinctive decision to take him out.

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With Cros’ second touch having been a good one to leave the ball sitting up in the in-goal area, it’s a clear and obvious penalty try for referee Wayne Barnes and Doris is binned.

It’s obviously a big error from Stockdale and a real blow for Ireland after an encouraging opening 30 minutes.

Stockdale is next called upon for more cover work and does a solid job as Romain Ntamack cross-kicks [yellow below] to Fickou.

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Stockdale has to close up from the backfield to the right edge and gets there just as Fickou receives the ball, with the Irish fullback’s presence ushering the France wing back infield.

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Fickou is tackled and Stockdale drops into the backfield again to patrol as Ireland defend, eventually conceding a penalty through Murray.

Stockdale has one final involvement on the ball before half-time as he collects an exiting kick from Ntamack and responds with a hanging garryowen.

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Again, the kick is a good one from Stockdale and allows Keenan to get into the contest, with Bouthier losing the ball in the air and then France knock-on in the ensuing scramble.

Ireland’s scrum attack results in a penalty which they opt to kick into the corner but fail to convert with the clock in the red.

Early in the second half, Ireland miss an attacking opportunity that might have finally allowed Stockdale to show his attacking qualities.

Ireland’s phase-play attack has left Rattez [yellow below] exposed out on the edge of the French defence.

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Stander [red] is running a short, flat line off Sexton but Robbie Henshaw [white] is the better option on a pullback pass behind the number eight.

Sexton opts for the short pass to Stander but Vakatawa makes a strong defensive intervention to read the play from Ireland’s out-half.

A pass out the back may have allowed Henshaw to send Stockdale and Keenan into space, even if we can see below that there is good French cover in behind.

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It’s fine defending from Vakatawa in a tough situation but Ireland will feel they could have at least made good gains up the left here.

Ireland’s decision-making is poor again just a couple of phases later as Sexton chips the ball away with opportunity beckoning wide on the right this time.

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The chip is easy for Bouthier to gather and Stockdale [yellow above] has to work hard tracking back to cover the French fullback’s long clearing kick…

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… before turning and making an excellent kick of his own all the way up to the halfway line.

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Again, it’s solid fullback play after a wasteful Irish attack.

Another poor attacking kick Ireland, through Aki this time, results in Bouthier again smashing the ball deep behind them.

This time, Sexton gathers and launches a garryowen, which Bouthier defuses before launching the stunning transition attack that results in Ntamack scoring off Dupont’s superb offload.

As Ntamack and Fickou [both white below] break down the left, Sexton [red] has to close up on Fickou.

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At this stage, Stockdale [yellow] really needs to be getting up to sprinting speed to cover the space in behind Sexton.

But Stockdale is still not up to top speed – which is very fast in his case – as Fickou chips over Sexton.

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And that delay means that the very pacy Dupont beats Stockdale to the ball.

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It would have been great fullback play from Stockdale to win the race here but he will certainly feel he could have worked harder from an earlier stage.

As it is, Dupont has time to gather the ball and get to the outside of Stockdale’s tackle attempt, keeping the ball free and then offloading intelligently back over Doris’ head.

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Ntamack gathers and dots down in a big blow to Irish confidence in the 44th minute.

Stockdale’s next involvement is a catch under Dupont’s exiting box kick after the Irish restart.

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It’s a clean catch but Fickou is on top of the Irish fullback and tackles him immediately to ground before Ireland attempt a shortside attack, get driven into touch, then concede a penalty that Ntamack slots.

Again, Stockdale receives their exit just inside Ireland’s half…

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… before carrying it back on a meandering run to the halfway line.

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Stockdale very nearly knocks the ball on as he comes to ground but is lucky that it doesn’t roll forward, allowing Ireland to continue their attack.

He gets back on the ball a few phases later but Ireland have lost all attacking shape and he is isolated after gathering Murray’s pass, which is just behind him.

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No player likes being turned over but there’s not a huge amount Stockdale can do here after his surge, particularly with referees having clamped down on ball-carriers’ movement on the ground after being tackled.

Ireland soon conceded another three points to France, meaning another exit receipt for Stockdale, who carries back aggressively into midfield.

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With Keenan his only viable support and France’s chase line in decent nick, Stockdale runs at a space that Healy initially flags to him as the prop retreats downfield, but the French close it down well. 

In the 55th minute, Stockdale has a positive involvement on the left as Murray picks him out with a smart double miss pass down the shortside.

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Stockdale uses his left foot to delicately dribble a grubber kick in behind close to the touchline…

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… forcing the covering Ntamack to carry it out into touch.

Stockdale’s kick gives Ireland an excellent attacking position from the lineout but Rob Herring’s throw is picked off by Dylan Cretin in one of several missed chances for Ireland.

Soon after, Stockdale is involved in a strange error from Ireland on a lineout attack further outfield.

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It’s unclear exactly what Ireland’s plan was on this second phase of the attack but Stockdale is right on top of Chris Farrell as he looks to play the switch pass.

Whatever the intention, it goes badly wrong, one of a few instances of poor play from Ireland on their strike moves from set-piece.

France hack ahead and Keenan needs to show good work-rate to get back and regather the ball near his own tryline.

A stunning Henshaw try and an excellent Sexton conversion bring Ireland back to within eight points with 61 minutes played but then Stockdale produces another handling error off France’s restart.

Rather than kicking out, Ireland decide to try a running exit play as Murray [yellow below] dummy loops around Peter O’Mahony, who instead moves the ball back inside to Stockdale [white].

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France read the play in straightforward fashion and with Stockdale looking up at Grégory Alldritt and Demba Bamba in front of him, he knocks the ball on.

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Even accounting for the slippery ball, it’s another poor error in a dangerous position. Fortunately for Ireland, the French can’t convert the turnover into a try-scoring chance.

From the resulting scrum attack, Stockdale closes up on Fickou on the edge and funnels him back infield again.

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Fickou offloads and Stockdale makes a tackle on Arthur Vincent.

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Stander wins a turnover penalty a couple of phases later but Murray misses touch as he looks to clear the French backfield players and roll the ball into touch all the way down in the French 22.

France kick back at Ireland and Stander passes to Stockdale for an aggressive carry into the French.

Carry

Stockdale was Ireland’s top ball carrier in this game, making 16 carries in total and beating six defenders for a total of 118 metres.

Ireland subsequently botch two more lineouts – one of them just five metres out – before Stockdale’s next involvement is a negative one.

This time, his pass is up behind Henshaw’s head.

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Keenan collects the loose ball and then Stockdale opts for the straightforward carry as replacement scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park passes to him.

Stockdale’s handling struggles in the wet conditions continue in the 70th minute after he initially shows his power.

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It’s a disappointing error for Stockdale after his good initial work fending Vakatawa and Rattez.

And it proves costly as France score a try off the ensuing scrum attack.

With Gibson-Park [yellow below] defending in the frontline for Ireland, Ntamack calmly picks out the space behind with a lovely chip kick off his ‘bad’ left foot.

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Stockdale is on the right-hand side of Ireland’s backfield and closes in on Ntamack as he regathers on the bounce.

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Ntamack has Dupont supporting on the inside, while Vakatawa is working up on his left, so it’s clearly a major try-scoring opportunity.

The attacking player always has more advantageous cards in their hand in this kind of situation, so it’s a really tough one, but Stockdale might have hoped to force Ntamack to pass or offload.

The Ireland fullback can only get a left arm to Ntamack as the French out-half swerves away from him and then feeds Vakatawa for their bonus-point try.

Stockdale is called on once again under France’s exiting kick soon after, doing well to gather the ball despite contact from Fickou…

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… and then offload from the deck to Conway.

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In the 74th minute, Stockdale receives another French kick and shows his power to break two tackles before cleverly keeping the ball in play.

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He has another carry over on the left with four minutes remaining and then shows more dynamism wide on the right inside the French half soon after.

And Stockdale ensures his night at least finishes with a positive involvement as he breaks clear off Keenan’s offload with the clock in the red.

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It’s Stockdale’s first try for Ireland in over a year and his 17th in total over the course of his 30 caps.

The Ulsterman will hope to have the chance to add to that tally in the very near future as he looks to put a disappointing night in Paris behind him.

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Murray Kinsella

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