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How Jacob Stockdale scored seven tries to break the Six Nations record

The 22-year-old talks us through each of his tries during Ireland’s Grand Slam run.

WITH 11 TRIES for Ireland in his first nine Tests, Jacob Stockdale has made a fine start in any possible bid to become the country’s all-time top try scorer.

The 22-year-old’s efforts during Ireland’s Grand Slam success this year were particularly sensational, as he scored seven tries in five games to set a new record for an individual during a Six Nations championship.

Jacob Stockdale scores a try Stockdale was on fire as Ireland won the Grand Slam. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Rather unsurprisingly, the Ulsterman is a nominee for both Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year and Mason Alexander Supporters’ Player of the Year at the Irish Rugby Players Awards on 16 May, deserved recognition of his excellent season.

We spoke to Stockdale about each of his seven tries for Ireland in their Grand Slam run – moving backwards through them – with the left wing explaining the decision-making processes and skills involved.

England:

Stockdale’s most memorable score during the Grand Slam was, of course, his sublime chip and chase against England in the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham.

Scrum-half Conor Murray intelligently put Stockdale into space down the left wing, before he chipped over the head of Mike Brown and finished impressively.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

Ireland had gone through nine phases of attack in the England half without making major gains, and Stockdale initially came in off his left wing towards where Garry Ringrose had just been tackled.

“I was going to resource the breakdown and I realised that we’d won it, so I didn’t need to go to the ruck,” explains the Ulster wing.

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With Ringrose having used his footwork well, Ireland had made it over the gainline and suddenly an opportunity presented itself with England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth isolated on the left of the ruck [circled in red below].

“Just as I was stepping back away from it, we realised that they hadn’t folded too many guys and there was a bit of a blindside,” continues Stockdale. “I think Murray and I just saw it at exactly the same time.

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“He [Murray] drew in a defender and gave me a really good pass to set me away. It was just off the cuff, so it was.”

Murray’s clever dart and pass, followed by him wrapping his arms around Wigglesworth to prevent the Englishman from drifting out, freed Stockdale into clear space, before fullback Brown began to close up on him.

Stockdale dropped the ball onto his left boot and dinked a skillful and perfectly-weighted chip ahead.

“Whenever you’re one-on-one with the fullback, there’s space somewhere and I could see that it was in behind him,” says Stockdale. “Those wee chips in behind and the dink into space is something I’ve been working on with the Irish kicking coach, Richie Murphy.

“The easier kicks are the ones where you’re able to batter it long, so those smaller kicks probably take more skill and it’s something you have to practice and hone in a wee bit more.”

With the ball in the air, Stockdale sprinted at top speed, with Brown and England wing Jonny May in pursuit, as we see below.

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The ball descended from the air and bounced once, leaving Stockdale with a split-second decision to make.

“To be honest, I was trying to get to the ball first and get in front of the two of them, then the kick took a bit of a nasty bounce and it didn’t work to gather it with my hands, so I just pulled my hands away and luckily it came off my knee and didn’t go too much further.

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“I was able to chase it down and once I realised I was going to be able to get there, I figured I could finish pretty well.”

There was, perhaps, an opportunity to go down for a penalty try in the moment below, with May grabbing Stockdale in a despairing effort to prevent the score after the ball had bounced forward off the Irishman’s wing.

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“I didn’t want to leave it up to that chance, it’s a split-second decision and I figured that I could probably still get the ball, so I went for it and I was lucky enough that the dead-ball line had been moved,” says Stockdale of his decision to stay on his feet.

“I honestly didn’t even realise they had moved the line until after the game when a reporter asked me about it and I had to pretend as if I had actually known as soon as it happened!”

6

Scotland second try:

Stockdale’s sixth try of the championship was one of his more straightforward scores, although it required a fine sidestep to beat final defender Blair Kinghorn in the left corner after Ringrose had passed to him.

The try came on the end of a superb Joe Schmidt power play, which we analysed in depth here.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

“That was a set play by Joe and everybody had their role,” says Stockdale. “My role was to run a line and then get out onto the wing to wait for a guy to come back with the ball.

“In fairness to Garry, he could have easily finished that himself but he gave it to me. It was just a set play and on those plays everybody has a particular role for a particular reason.”

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The neat footwork to step back to the inside of the exposed Kinghorn was sharp, this being an area that the 22-year-old has been working hard to improve since he first joined the Ulster academy set-up.

“You’re always trying to improve and do your extras at the end of training, and footwork is a huge part of that.

“It’s something that is fairly based on instinct and I didn’t really think too much about it in that moment, but it came off.”

Scotland first try:

Stockdale’s first try against the Scots earlier in the same game was one of his three intercept efforts in the Six Nations.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

This came hot on the heels of his intercept score against the Welsh and was based on a good read of the play in front of him, as well as Ireland’s analysis of Scottish habits in attack.

“It was a bit of both,” says Stockdale. “With Finn Russell playing at 10, he is a bit of a maverick and he throws those big, long passes, so we had been looking at his profile and we felt there were going to be some opportunities, that kind of thing.

“When it came down to it during the game, it was actually Peter Horne that ended up throwing the pass. It was a read at that point.”

The work of Ringrose just inside Stockdale in Ireland’s defensive line gave him confidence that he could go and pick off Horne’s long pass.

“Garry had Huw Jones covered on that short line [indicated in white below], which meant I was able to read off and able to pick the pass off.”

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That Horne’s pass was in the air for almost two seconds told a tale and Stockdale was able to predict the Scotland centre’s pass even before he had released the ball.

“You try and read body language as best you can and when you see a player wind up, you know he’s likely to throw a big pass and that the ball is going to be in the air for a bit, so usually if you don’t get the intercept, you have a bit of time to read off and make the tackle.”

The good read left Stockdale with plenty of time to enjoy his untouched run to the tryline.

Wales second try:

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This was the second intercept try Stockdale scored and it sealed Ireland’s victory over the Welsh after a nerve-wracking final quarter.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

“It was quite similar to the one against Scotland,” says Stockdale. “Chris Farrell [circled in white below] was on the inside and he got up into the pass channel and that meant that Anscombe didn’t really have anyone to pass to.”

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“Anscombe had to go to the forwards tight to him, or else he could try that big looping pass.”

As Stockdale read the Wales playmaker’s body language, he says he made an instant decision to go for the ball.

“Whenever I realised that he wasn’t going to go short, there was only really one place he was going to go and that was to try and go up over the top,” says Stockdale. “When you see him wind up that pass, there’s an opportunity.”

There were many who questioned Stockdale’s decision in the aftermath, even after he had scored the try, pointing out that Wales had numbers on the outside edge and that there was real risk involved.

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But Stockdale felt comfortable that he could have readjusted and recovered had Anscombe’s pass cleared him – as he felt for the intercept against Scotland too.

“Anscombe didn’t put it right over my head but even then I felt I probably had time to work out and cover that pass,” says Stockdale.

“That was what I was almost most pleased about – that it wasn’t a Hail Mary. Andy Farrell talks about being able to defend two men and I was probably able to do that in both of those scenarios.”

Wales first try:

Earlier in the Welsh game, Stockdale crossed for what was his easiest try of the Grand Slam.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

He got over in the left corner on the end of a sumptuous long pass from Johnny Sexton following strong carrying by Farrell, CJ Stander, Cian Healy and Dan Leavy.

“I can’t take too much credit for that, that’s just Johnny being Johnny,” says Stockdale. “It’s a pass that not too many people in world rugby could throw with that kind of accuracy and that kind of pace on it. I was just pretty happy I caught it and got it down.”

The final Welsh defender on the edge, Leigh Halfpenny, came up and in, something that Ireland’s analysis had told them the Welsh wings would do.

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But really, this was all about Sexton’s genius, according to Stockdale.

“We knew that Liam Williams and Steff Evans on the wings tend to come in and try to do spot plays and hit people, so to a certain extent we knew they would do that but to be honest, at the end of the day it just came down to that pass from Johnny.”

Italy second try:

Stockdale’s second try against Italy was his longest-range effort and again started with an intercept of an opposition pass, although a different type in this case.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

“The Italian player just threw it straight into my hands and made it a wee bit easier,” says Stockdale. “After that, it was just trying to get over the line.”

There was work to do even after the gift from Italy, with Stockdale instantly moving the ball into his left hand and freeing his right to fend the first attempted tackle by Tommaso Benvenuti.

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“I’m left-handed so I naturally carry the ball in my left but you always try to make sure that you’ve got a fend available if you need it,” explains Stockdale.

Free of Venditti’s attention, Stockdale burst into clear space, although Italy fullback Jayden Hayward [red below] was covering across in the backfield.

Stockdale had Keith Earls [white] on his inside but opted not to use him.

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“I had an idea that Keith was there but I wasn’t sure who was around him and I didn’t want to just pop it to him and him get hit, if that makes sense,” says Stockdale.

“I figured that I had the space to get past Jayden Hayward so I figured I would have a crack myself.”

Stockdale’s technique to beat Hayward involved moving infield away from the touchline before rapidly accelerating on a swerving line back to the outside.

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Stockdale explains:

“You want to give yourself as much of a chance as possible to get outside him, so I was just coming in off the wing a wee bit, just to try and make him sit on his heels so he wouldn’t have that rolling start into making the tackle, if that makes sense?

“Coming in off the wing a wee bit, trying to slow the defender and hope that I had more gas than him to get back on the outside before he reacted.”

Stockdale has used this technique successfully on a number of occasions in recent seasons and reckons he hasn’t been caught when backing himself in this manner since his school days.

Italy first try:

Stockdale’s first try of the Six Nations saw him taking a clever pass from Joey Carbery close to the Italian tryline.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

“That was very much a team try,” says Stockdale. “The forwards had a few pick-and-gos to really suck them in. That left a lot of space for us as backs to attack into.”

Devin Toner’s link pass out the back of Rory Best to Carbery got their clever little shape moving and then Stockdale’s job was to bounce out behind Bundee Aki, who was running a hard line to Carbery’s right shoulder [white below].

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The key for Stockdale [red above] was biding his time before bouncing out and into the Italian view.

“For the line I was running, we were running a spot play with somebody short and I was coming out the back, so I suppose for me it’s staying in that tuck position as long as I can, just stay hidden as long as I could and pop out at the last second and hope that they hadn’t noticed me and jammed onto the short runner.

“Thankfully, they did that!”

Stockdale broke through untouched and dived over to score, setting into motion what was to be a record-breaking try-scoring Grand Slam for him.

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