'I think my game is coming along really nicely, to be honest' - Stockdale

The 24-year-old has been playing at fullback for Ulster in recent times.

FEW PLAYERS IN Ireland ignite discussion like Jacob Stockdale. Not that he courts the publicity.

The 24-year-old is now a 28-cap Ireland international and has essentially been a first-choice selection since November 2018, yet his place in the national team is questioned more than most.

His remarkable try-scoring run in 2018, when he dotted down for a record seven tries during Ireland’s Grand Slam run, almost didn’t help. While Stockdale showed exactly what he is capable of, expectations were set at an extremely high level during a time in which the Ireland team around him was purring.

jacob-stockdale Stockdale has been a first-choice for Ireland since 2017. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It certainly hasn’t been plain-sailing since that annus mirabilis but Stockdale has come in for more than his fair share of criticism as Ireland have struggled to reach those lofty heights again.

His place in the Ireland XV has been questioned strongly again in 2020 but the man himself feels he is heading into Saturday’s rescheduled Six Nations clash with Italy in a good place.

“I think my game is coming along really nicely, to be honest,” says Stockdale. “Those last two games in the Pro14 [against Benetton and Ospreys] were really big for me personally, just to get two big performances under my belt before I came in here.

“And to be honest, before that I felt like I was putting in decent performances. Obviously, the Toulouse game was probably a bit of a blip, it was really disappointing for me personally and for us as a team in Ulster but these things are going to happen. You are going to have games where you don’t perform as well as you would like to.

“It’s about learning from those things. Look, I’m happy with where I’m sitting right now and I’m just looking forward to potentially getting to play a bit of rugby in the next few weeks.”

A long-term injury for Will Addison has seen Stockdale lining up at fullback for Ulster in recent times. He wore the number 15 shirt for the Ireland U20s in 2016 but had spent the majority of his senior Ulster career on the left wing and has only started in the number 11 shirt for Ireland.

However, five of his six starts for Ulster since rugby’s restart in August have been at fullback and Stockdale is now one of the options there for Ireland with previous incumbent Jordan Larmour ruled out of the entire autumn campaign through injury.

jacob-stockdale-during-the-warm-up Stockdale has been playing fullback for Ulster recently. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

“I’ve no idea, to be honest,” says Stockdale when asked if he sees himself as a fullback now, underlining that he’s happy to play anywhere as long as he’s picked. He does say the left wing and fullback roles are rather different.

“When you move to 15, the backfield becomes largely your priority. You don’t really need to worry about defending the front line unless things go pretty wrong which is obviously just a change in mindset, going from wing to fullback.

“I think fullback… what I found over the last few weeks is that I don’t really, there’s no real opportunity to stop – if that makes sense? You have to be willing to work constantly and having that ability to keep concentrating any time the ball is in play.

“When you are on the wing and the ball goes to the far side of the pitch you usually have a minute to process things and figure out exactly what you want to do next. At fullback, you have to be switched on constantly.”

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Ireland boss Andy Farrell is due to name his team to face Italy tomorrow afternoon and Stockdale is expected to be part of it, even if it remains to be seen which jersey he wears.

Whatever the shape of the back three, Andrew Conway looks likely to be part of it too, while the uncapped Shane Daly and Hugo Keenan have hopes of making their debuts, with Keith Earls currently on the injury list alongside Larmour and Addison.

Stockdale knows Daly and Keenan well, having played with them for the Ireland U20s when that team reached the World Championship final. Back then, Stockdale was at 15, Keenan was on the left wing, and Daly was at outside centre.  

shane-daly-celebrates-his-try-with-jacob-stockdale Stockdale celebrates with Shane Daly for the U20s in 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It is really refreshing having those guys in,” says Stockdale of Daly and Keenan. “I haven’t played with them since [the U20s], so it’s a fun opportunity to do that.

“Hugo’s work rate has been phenomenal. A large part of the reason he is in is the energy and the drive that he brings to a team whenever he is playing. From watching from the outside and playing against him, that’s something that’s been really impressive.

“Obviously Shane has put in some fantastic performances from Munster. He’s a very talented player and he played 13 on that 20s team, which shows his versatility, which I think is a sign of a really good player. Both of them have slipped into Irish training seamlessly.”

Stockdale accelerated to Test level far sooner than that pair of newcomers and he’s keen to remind everyone of his top-level quality as Ireland get back underway this weekend.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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