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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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'I'm not expecting to score eight tries this year' - Stockdale stays grounded

The 22-year-old Ireland wing enjoyed a remarkable 2018.

MEASURING IN AT 6ft 3ins tall, Jacob Stockdale is eager to become a dominant figure in the air above the rugby pitch.

The prolific Ulster wing’s aerial skills are sure to come in for a stern assessment on Saturday as England – who kicked eight times more than Ireland, on average, in the November Tests – visit Dublin.

But in another sense, Stockdale is continually reminding himself to keep his feet firmly on the ground.

Jacob Stockdale Stockdale has 12 tries in 14 Tests for Ireland. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

2018 was a rip-roaring year for him, with his free-scoring contribution to Ireland’s Grand Slam followed up by playing in the series win over Australia and then came an unforgettable score as Joe Schmidt’s side overcame the All Blacks.

It would be easy for the 22-year-old to slip into a place of over-confidence, to believe that this is the norm.

While no one will be looking to limit Stockdale’s ambition, he’s aware that staying grounded is vital as his profile continues to sky-rocket.

“It was more of a challenge than I expected it to be,” says Stockdale of how 2018 changed things.

“All of a sudden, people are taking photos of you in the street and there are paparazzi outside the hotel, which was very strange to me. I wasn’t a massive fan of it, to be honest.”

Stockdale explains that his parents did a good job of not allowing him to get carried away, while he feels sport has its own funny way of dragging you back down to earth.

“Exactly a week after we won the Grand Slam, I was playing away in Cardiff for Ulster and we lost,” he says. “It’s a pretty good way of getting your feet back on the ground.

“To, be honest I feel I was pretty aware of the fact that I could fall in love with myself so I just tried to make sure that whenever I got back in the Ulster set-up I was working hard, making sure I was always playing my best for them.

“If you hang around and get too caught up in what you’ve done, you can be left behind.

“And you always get a few of the older lads taking the piss out of you a wee bit! They try to cut you down, like – Besty [Rory Best] has done plenty of that, so he has.”

Jacob Stockdale scores a try despite Damian McKenzie Stockdale scores against the All Blacks. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

With 12 tries in 14 Tests for Ireland so far, Stockdale’s rate of scoring has been prodigious and his efforts at provincial level have been remarkable too – he has dotted down 26 times in 51 appearances for Ulster.

His seven tries in last year’s Grand Slam set a new record for the Six Nations era but he insists that focusing on the five-pointers is not part of his approach ahead of the new campaign.

“I’m not expecting to score eight tries this year,” says Stockdale. “For me, it’s just about training the best that I can so that I can play the best I can.

“Whenever you’re performing well, the tries come off the back of that. That’s my main focus – making sure I do everything during the week to allow me to perform well at the weekend.

“Then, England at home in the Six Nations is not a hard game to get up for and get excited about.”

Particularly not when Stockdale is likely to be heavily involved, even away from any possible try-scoring. 

England have a fondness for kicking contestably through scrum-half Ben Youngs from the base of rucks and his accuracy should mean several crucial aerial contests for Stockdale.

“It’s a massive part of the game as winger, as a back three player,” he says. “We have guys who are really good in the air and are a weapon for the team.

“For me, it has been trying to turn my ability in the air, with my height, into a weapon.
“It’s getting there. It’s not a finished product by a long range but it’s getting there.

Jacob Stockdale Stockdale has been working hard on his aerial skills. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It will be big on the weekend. In Test matches, it is the minor margins that make the big difference. The aerial battle is going to be one of those.”

Stockdale has been the difference for Ireland on other occasions, with his chip and regather against the All Blacks coming at the end of a clever set-piece attack from a lineout.

The Ulsterman is hopeful the ball will keep bouncing his way.

“It hasn’t always bounced nicely for me,” says Stockdale. “Like, in the [Ulster v] Racing game, one of them got away from me. To be honest, I think a big part of it is the quality of the kick we try to put in.

“If we get that nice angle on the bounce, there is only really one way it can go. It can either go up or it can go straight, rather than left or right.”

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Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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Murray Kinsella

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