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'There was a Lego set so I said I'd give it a try and I became obsessed with it'

Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale has discovered the perfect way to take his mind off the game.

KILLING HOURS IN the evenings before a big Test match can be a restless experience for some players, but Jacob Stockdale has found a novel way of getting his mind off the game.

This time last year, the 22-year-old Ulster man took a stroll out of Ireland’s team hotel in his search for something to keep himself occupied with and stumbled upon a pastime that many of us associate with childhood – Lego.

Jacob Stockdale Stockdale says he's obsessed with Lego. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I was thinking, ‘What can I do? What will take four or five hours that isn’t physically strenuous?’” explains Stockdale.

“I was in a bookshop and there was a Lego set so I said I’d give it a try and I became obsessed with it.”

Stockdale’s most recent Lego build was the Millenium Falcon from Star Wars, which he says actually took seven hours.

Such is the extent of Stockdale’s obsession, he has even dedicated a room in his new home in Belfast to housing his Lego creations.

“What I usually do is buy one kit at a time, build it and then I put it up in my house. I’ve got a converted attic and I’m turning into a nerd room, like a nerd paradise. It’s coming along.

“Right now I’ve just got five or six big bits – the Millennium Falcon, Yoda’s Starfighter, I’ve got the New York skyline in Lego, things like that. I’m adding bits and pieces to it but it’s very early stages.”

Stockdale – who is a big fan of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter – is rooming with Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson in Ireland camp at present and says the lock is “another man that’s into his Lego as well.” 

There’s been a bit of slagging from some of the more mature squad members but Stockdale is owning his love for Lego.

“I think whenever you call yourself a nerd before anyone else gets the chance to, then it’s alright,” he says with a smile.

While he hadn’t considered the new hobby as a form of mindfulness to begin with, Stockdale has come to realise that putting the sets together works as the perfect switch-off before Ireland’s games.

Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway Stockdale is set to start against the All Blacks this weekend. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“That didn’t really occur to me before. I just thought I enjoyed Lego, I enjoyed building it. But when you’re building that the night before a game, you finish and you go, ‘That’s three or four hours where I literally haven’t thought about the game at all.

“It helps me to switch off and then switch back on again when I finish it. It didn’t occur to me at all whenever I first started it that that would be a benefit, but it is.” 

This week certainly presents Stockdale with a game that will require him to switch-off from on Thursday and Friday nights, not that he’s the type to get too nervous.

Playing the All Blacks on Saturday for the first time in his career at senior level will be another momentous occasion for the youngster, who has scored 11 tries in 12 Tests so far, but there is no sense of him being daunted.

“You grew up playing Johan Lomu Rugby, the games and stuff,” says Stockdale when asked about the All Blacks.

“There’s a whole reel of players, Dan Carter was probably the biggest player in the world when I was growing up. They’ve got these guys who are legends of the game, so they’re obviously a bit different to any other team you play.

“But at the same time, we’re number two in the world at the moment and we can’t just be looking at them like they’re a group of legends. They’re just a rugby team and that’s the mentality you have to go into it with, I think.”

Stockdale has been part of an Ireland team that beat New Zealand before, albeit at U20 level back in 2016.

His rise since has been nothing short of remarkable, with his senior Ireland debut coming against the US in the summer of 2017, before he rapidly established himself as a front-line player under Joe Schmidt in November of last year. 

“I’ve come a long way since then,” says Stockdale. “Looking back, I don’t feel as raw as I did then. I understand what I want to be looking for, particularly my defence.

“My defence has come a long way since then. I just feel more confident whenever teams are coming wide against me and things in the air.

Jacob Stockdale competes for a high ball with Matias Orlando and Bautista Delguy Stockdale is still working on the finer details of his game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You know, the small details, I just feel they’ve come a long way and I can’t give enough credit to the coaches, particularly Andy Farrell and Jared Payne back in Ulster as well. Those are two guys who have been massive for my development, particularly defensively over the last season.

“Obviously I’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of stuff to tighten up, I realise that, but I feel like I’m definitely moving in the right direction.”

There were reminders of the little details that are essential at the top level last weekend against Argentina for Stockdale, notably when he dropped a high ball in the first half.

“There’s one where I get up really well, time it really nicely off one of Sanchez’s kicks,” says Stockdale. “I get up above [Bautista] Delguy and I don’t get my cradle quite right, don’t get it tight enough and the ball just comes off my shoulder and pops out.

“It’s not the kind of thing that takes a week to fix, it’s a small thing that during the game you have a cue in your mind to do that.

“We’ve been working on our high ball stuff in training because the All Blacks have a reputation for running everything but actually kick a lot. Their wingers are good in the air, it’s going to be a big point in the game.”

There was an impressive aerial take from Stockdale later in the game inside his own 22, catches like that being “one of the best feelings in the game,” according to the Ulster wing.

As he continues to work hard as part of an Ireland team that never loses sight of the scope for improvement under Schmidt, taking on the All Blacks is just another step in the path for Stockdale.

Jacob Stockdale The Ulster man is looking to add to his 11 Test tries this weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Where we’ve come in Irish rugby, we have changed, the team has changed to the point where we’re one of the biggest teams in the world,” he says.

“We’re right up there mixing it with the very best and I think that’s not only testament to Joe but to the coaching staff around him and the squad.

“We’ve built really well over the last couple of years, so I think there is a different mentality now.

“It’s not a,’We’d be lucky to beat these guys.’

“It’s ‘We are just as good as these lads and we can compete with them at the very highest level.’ That’s been shown over the last couple of times we’ve met them.”

- Originally published at 06.15

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Murray Kinsella

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