Stockdale remaining 'upbeat' as he awaits results of scan after latest ankle injury

The Ulster wing has only returned from an ankle problem that sidelined him for almost 12 months.

File photo of Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale.
File photo of Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

ULSTER ASSISTANT COACH Dan Soper has revealed that winger Jacob Stockdale is remaining upbeat despite picking up another ankle injury just three games into his return from one that kept him out for almost a year.

The Ireland winger was rocked by a tackle in the first-half of Friday’s 20-13 defeat to Leinster and never re-emerged after the interval, replaced by Ben Moxham at half-time, and Ulster confirmed yesterday he is headed for an MRI scan on the issue.

Fortunately it is not on the same ankle as his previous injury, which would have immediately had alarm bells ringing given its severity, and the hope is that he will be able to avoid a similar diagnosis and will not be sidelined long-term again.

The bigger frustration is that Stockdale had started the season well, kept off the scoresheet but playing a central role in helping Ulster to wins over Connacht and the Scarlets, showing hallmarks of the form that led him to 19 tries in just 35 caps for Ireland.

“He was pretty gutted post-match,” confirmed Soper. “Immediately after the match you are always thinking the worst and it’s been as fresh for him of going through that whole process of rehabbing and all that, you tend to think the worst.

“He’s pretty upbeat today, albeit we haven’t got the scan result back yet. It’s a shame because he got back to some pretty good form pretty quickly. Hopefully it is not too bad.

“Jacob is pretty resilient. We’ll wait and see what the scan comes back and tells us and then we’ll have a timeline to work to. Hopefully it’s not too long and all the good work he’s done in the last year, getting himself into the shape that he’s in, we’ll see that again pretty quickly.”

While Ulster may be without a host of players who are with Emerging Ireland, including Robert Baloucoune, Nathan Doak and Stewart Moore who all impressed against the Griquas on Friday, but there is some relief coming from South Africa.

Star No.8 Duane Vermeulen is back in Belfast after featuring for the Springboks in the Rugby Championship and, after going through his first training session today, could be involved against the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (7.35pm).

“It’s magnificent even for the new crop of Academy guys that are about the place, the likes of young Lorcan McLoughlin who was so impressive on the weekend for Queen’s, getting the opportunity to train with Duane this week will be pretty awesome for him, same for all those young fellas,” adds Soper.

Vermeulen rejoins a squad dissecting what went wrong against inter-provincial rivals Leinster last Friday, suffering their first defeat of the season at Kingspan Stadium as first-half tries from Ryan Baird and Dan Sheehan led the visitors through the fierce Belfast rain.

In the aftermath, head coach Dan McFarland conceded they didn’t want it enough and that they needed to be better going forward, but Soper struck a more optimistic tone a few days on, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight and a video review under their belts.

“We weren’t a million miles away. We would be disappointed with the first half. We thought they did a better job at managing territory,” he did admit.

“But we were pleased with how we got ourselves back in the game in the second half and we looked at various aspects in the game that we were disappointed with, but we also saw parts of the game that we looked at and feel they are at a level we can live with.

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“Leinster have set the standard for so long, so we came out of it positively and look forward to cracking on to these next handful of games before a week break because we feel we can keep it up and be competing right at the top of the league.”

One of the big questions that arose from the game, though, was how much Ulster were hindered by Emerging Ireland call-ups compared to Leinster and what difference that could have made to proceedings at Kingspan Stadium.

While their visitors were missing, at best, three players that would have featured were they available, Ulster could have had Baloucoune, Doak, Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, David McCann, Ethan McIlroy and Tom Stewart all back and playing key roles.

Baloucoune in particular would have certainly started against Leinster, and McIlroy would have likely been the one called upon after Stockdale’s injury, but Soper wasn’t willing to hide behind that as an excuse and was instead enthused by those who starred in Bloemfontein.

“It is a wee bit (frustrating) but we’ve got good players still here and it’s a great opportunity for them. It is what it is,” maintained the former RBAI coach.

“The Emerging Ireland tour has been talked about a lot, it was great to see those guys last week get an opportunity and I thought our guys did really well so that was great to see. This weekend it’s an opportunity for the next guys to get a go.

“Yes, it will challenge us, but it’s no different to any time of the season, depth is always questioned when you’ve got a run of games.”

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