'Something I've always had in my locker': Stockdale glad to let passing skill shine through

The wing-turned-fullback put his passing range on display against Georgia.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WHILE THE SECOND half might have prompted many to turn away, Ireland’s first half performance against Georgia featured a handful of real eye-catching moments.

Both tries ruled valid came thanks to perfectly executed passes. And a third for Stuart McCloskey was cruelly chalked off as Jacob Stockdale’s second long, flat pass of the day was ruled forward.

He would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that pesky halfway line.

“Obviously if I’m accelerating forward with the ball, the ball is going to travel forward in the air. That’s physics, like,” Stockdale argued this week.

Even ruled out, the move was cause for optimism. Not least for the ongoing merits of Stockdale in the 15 shirt. The Ulster man was guilty of errors in his latest outing at fullback, but the sight of him launching searching passes off left and right hands – one for McCloskey, one for Hugo Keenan’s try – gave Ireland’s attack a different dimension.

Clearly, when he is stationed on the wing there is less opportunity for Stockdale to wind up a long pass. But even casting a mind back to his Ireland U20 days as fullback we picture his passing being short, well-timed offloads to bring team-mates through gaps.

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However, Stockdale insists the ability is nothing new.

“I’d say the length of my pass, the ability is always something I’ve had in my game. It’s not something I’ve really had the opportunity to pull out,” says the 24-year-old with 18 Test tries to his name.
There’s a certain (element of) getting used to being in the middle of the pitch and looking for options. When you’re on the wing your mindset is carry and try to beat defenders because there’s rarely anyone inside or outside you as an option to pass to.

“That’s what I’ve gotten used to at 15, looking for the option more. I’d say the passing game is something I’ve always had in my locker.”

“I definitely do feel a lot more comfortable (at fullback). Just for figuring out where I need to be on the pitch at different times in the game has been a massive learning point for me and something I definitely need to get better at.

“And then just in attack, what’s required of me in terms of connecting with other players, maybe staying more in the middle of the pitch and linking with other players rather than looking to get to the edge all the time.”

Stockdale says he enjoys setting up tries more than scoring them. Easy to say, perhaps, when he is three away from entering Ireland’s all-time top five list of try-scorers. It was notable that the other common element in the two tries he assisted on Sunday (one given, one ruled out) was his provincial team-mate Billy Burns.

A week after they combined for Ireland’s only score in Twickenham, Burns picked out Stockdale in a deep position, trusting him to run the play from there on both occasions mentioned above. The fullback doesn’t feel it’s solely down to the Ulster connection and hopes he and Jonathan Sexton can create openings against Scotland tomorrow.

“Playing outside (Sexton), that brings you a lot of confidence and it pushes the rest of us to make sure we do our prep as best as possible as well. That’s a real positive for us. 

“On top of that, when you’re training to play with him, he’s obviously a very talented player and a great decision maker. He reads the game very well and has a massive amount of experience in that sense.

“Hopefully he’ll get back in this week and we’re looking forward to him leading the charge.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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