Irish and Six Nations records look easy as Stockdale continually looks to the next step

The 21-year-old has set a new bar for Irish tries in a single season.

REMEMBER WHEN JACOB Stockdale went through an international try-scoring dry spell?

It lasted a full 178 minutes: from his early second half score in the corner against Argentina, through a full Test without his name on the score-sheet – disaster! – and then almost a full hour against Italy until soft hands from Devin Toner and Joey Carbery set him away.

That try opened the floodgates and washed away all memory of the drought where he went three whole halves of international rugby without registering five points on the scoreboard.

Last weekend, the 21-year-old Ulster star scored twice – his third brace in as many Tests – to bridge a 104-year gap since any player scored multiple tries in three consecutive matches in this Championship.

With six tries, he was level with the Six Nations single-Championship record shared by Will Greenwood, Chris Ashton and Shane Williams.

However, typically of a young man who idolised Rupeni Caucaunibuca rather than any international star closer to home, Stockdale didn’t limit himself.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

Even with his chip beyond Mike Brown bobbling away off his knees and thighs. Even with the fullback and wing Jonny May attempting to tackle him, Stockdale kept his legs pumping, kept pushing forward.

England v Ireland - NatWest Six Nations Source: Craig Mercer - CameraSport

A seventh try is a Six Nations record, just one shy of the all-time Championship mark of eight set by England’s Cyril Lowe in 1914 and Scotland’s Ian Smith in 1925. Those feats have always looked incredibly unlikely to be matched, but with Stockdale it’s hard to judge where the ceiling is.

“It’s a great feeling (the record). Every game I was just going out and trying to do the best I could and thankfully the tries came from that.”

England v Ireland - NatWest Six Nations Source: Mark Leech/Offside

Remember that it was only June when Stockdale won the first of his nine caps and scored the first of his 11 tries. He has yet to even sample the bitter taste of defeat on Ireland duty.

“It’s a bit strange. I met up for a coffee with my Dad during the week and we were both saying how strange it was. At the same time, I’ve gone step-by-step to get where I am. It’s a mixture of emotions.”

The steps will keep on coming for Stockdale. He is one of a crop of very young talents in this Irish squad who could help the team through the next three World Cups. There are big days to come long before Japan 2019 comes around and Stockdale didn’t need a guiding hand to set a target on the only team above Ireland in the world rankings.

“We’ve won a Grand Slam, that’s the first stepping stone to being a dominant team in world rugby. We’re sitting number two in the world, and we’re excited to have a crack at New Zealand. We’re in a really good place right now but there’s still a lot to work on. We can look forward to next year’s Six Nations and then the World Cup.”

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Asked further about targeting the All Blacks in November, he added:

“Look, Joe hasn’t said ‘New Zealand is the target’ but your ambition is to be the best team in the world and to do that you have to beat the best team in the world. At the minute that’s New Zealand.

“Look, we’re going to keep training and working as hard as we can.”

Before he turns to what can only be a massive comedown in the shape of Ulster training, Stockdale deserves a sizable chunk of time to reflect on the marks he has left in the history books.

Jacob Stockdale celebrates scoring their third try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His favourite score of the Championship was the intercept against Wales, a match-winning moment. The brace against Scotland powered him to a slew of records, but the epic stretch to score on the stroke of half-time in Twickenham broke the Irish record for tries in a single season – on top of English hearts.

It took 14 years for Denis Hickie’s eight-try season to be bettered, so Keith Earls must have thought his nine tries in the 2016/17 campaign would keep him top of that particular pile for a little longer than eight months.

Stockdale’s terrific 10 is the new high water mark, and there is still a three-Test summer tour to come.

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Sean Farrell

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