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Prolific Stockdale will return to Japan among top try-scorer favourites

The 23-year-old Ulsterman is set for his first run-out of the season against England on Saturday.

NESTLED AMONG THE favourites to be top try-scorer at the World Cup, Jacob Stockdale has some familiarity with Japan – having toured there with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland in 2017.

While the 23-year-old didn’t manage to bag a try in his one start against the Japenese two years ago, he has been prolific in Test rugby since and his finishing edge could be vital for Ireland at this World Cup.

Jacob Stockdale The 23-year-old has been lethal for Ireland in Test rugby. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane remains the favourite to score most tries in many quarters, while there have been plenty of shouts for the likes of Jonny May, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Cheslin Kolbe and George North, but Stockdale is likely to be in the mix, particularly if he sees action against minnows Russia in Pool A.

The prospect of returning to Japan next month is an exciting one for Stockdale, even if he admits to having had a bad first impression of the place on the last visit.

“To be honest, for the first couple of days I didn’t like it at all but the longer you’re there, the more you start to enjoy it and by the end of it, I was loving it,” recalls Stockdale after a training session with Ireland at their camp in Portugal.

“They do everything differently to the way it’s done in Ireland and it’s a big cultural shock, but once you get used to that… I really, really enjoyed it and it’s just a really cool place to be in and to explore.”

Ireland will have brief windows to take in the culture as they visit Chiba, Yokohama, Shizuoka, Kobe and Fukuoka before and during the pool stages of this World Cup, before they hope to head back up to Tokyo and Yokohama for the knock-out games.

Stockdale has been keeping an eye on events elsewhere in recent weeks, meaning he senses that this World Cup will be very open and that several teams have strong chances of contending.

“Obviously, New Zealand are going to be the favourites in most people’s eyes and they obviously showed that at the weekend with the bounce back against Australia,” says Stockdale.

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“But, you know, pretty much every game in that competition has been competitive and obviously Australia are coming into form, South Africa are looking good and Argentina are a very competitive side as well, if it hadn’t been for that TMO decision at the weekend then they would have beaten South Africa.

Jacob Stockdale Stockdale training in Portugal with Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So all teams are going to come into form at the World Cup and I think it’s going to be really competitive.”

Ireland have spent pre-season largely focusing on themselves, of course, building fitness and strength, as well as adding tactically to their game under Schmidt. Nonetheless, Stockdale underlines that there won’t be a revolution in how they play at the World Cup.

“I think Joe’s got a plan that he’s had for as long as I’ve been in and it’s about being excellent in everything we do, that’s the kind of message that we’ve been given for seasons now and that hasn’t really changed,” says Stockdale.

“Every player will be on top of his detail and there’s no real ‘out-there’ tactics that are going to win us this World Cup, but what we’re planning for is just playing well and doing what we do well.”

Stockdale is set for his first run-out of the season this weekend in the warm-up clash with England at Twickenham on Saturday, as it increasingly becomes “a proper reality that in less than a month we’ll be in Japan.”

The flying wing will hope to bag a few tries that might even slow down some of the slagging he’s been taking from team-mates for his new, longer hairstyle.

“The tide’s starting to turn now, so it is,” jokes Stockdale. “I’m starting to get a few more compliments.

“No, not many of the lads are behind me, to be honest. Feeky [scrum coach Greg Feek], actually, Feeky is behind me.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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