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'The biggest thing people have to remember is that Jacob is a really young fella'

The Ireland and Ulster wing is 23-years-old and still striving to find consistency in his game.

IT FEELS AS though Jacob Stockdale has been around for a long time already.

The reality is that he made his Ulster debut as recently as 2016 and won his first Ireland cap in the summer of 2017.

Stockdale has squeezed a lot in since – including a Grand Slam in which he scored a record-breaking seven tries, as well as a World Cup more recently – but he is still just 23-years-old.

jacob-stockdale-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle-with-louis-ludik Stockdale after a win-clinching intercept against Bath. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The Ulsterman is one of those players whose every action – good, bad, or in between – seems to cry out for further analysis. Stunning finishes, try-saving interceptions, defensive misreads, laidback body language; all of them attract scrutiny.

Stockdale was not at his best in the recent World Cup for Ireland and his form has been questioned, though big plays like his win-clinching save against Bath two weekends ago underline his ability. 

Ulster boss Dan McFarland is as excited as anyone about Stockdale’s potential but he is keen to remind everyone that the left wing is still learning.

“I think the biggest thing people have to remember is that Jacob is a really young fella and he has not been playing for his country that long and yet he is talked about like the number one, automatic choice for Ireland as if this is something that has been going on for the last five or 10 years – well, it is not,” said McFarland at yesterday’s Guinness Pro14 media day at Cardiff City Stadium.

“As a young fella, he is still developing. To get to the position where he is playing for Ireland he had a pretty rapid rise. That is based around the things he is capable of doing.

“We all know what he is capable of doing, but rugby players as they develop, consistency is one of the key things they need to do. He is still working on that and he’d acknowledge that and it is there for everybody to see.

“Do I believe he is going to get there? Yeah, 100%. The very fact that he was able to go from the player that he was to the level he got to playing against sides like New Zealand demonstrates he has the capacity to learn and develop, and consistency will be the same thing – he will add that to his repertoire.”

jacob-stockdale-dejected-after-the-game Stockdale has scored 16 tries in 25 Ireland caps. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

McFarland feels that Stockdale’s explosive breakthrough for Ireland, as well as with his province, has made him a marked man – perhaps partly explaining why he didn’t notch a try at the World Cup and hasn’t dotted down in his three Ulster appearances so far this season.

“I do not know for certain what teams are doing, but I know from my point of view when you look at the threat on an opposition team in the same way as [New England Patriots boss] Bill Belicheck would plan for opposition… his defence will always look and say, ‘What is their number one threat? Well, let’s deal with that first and worry about everything else after.’

“Jacob would be a huge threat in any rugby team he played in and, as opposition coaches, you have a game plan for that. I think from our point of view, we have got to do a good job of making sure he gets the ball and we have not done that as often as we could in the games he has played for us so far.

“Conditions have been a little bit of a part of that. As we move along, we will certainly get him the ball more. Remember when we played Racing at home last year and giving him the ball a couple of times and that was it, as well as the other fella on the wing, Robert Balacoune – we have got some talent there.”

Stockdale’s Ulster team-mate, Luke Marshall, echoed his head coach’s words when he pointed out that the Ireland wing is still developing.

There is a laidback side to Stockdale, but Marshall also sees the diligence of the Lurgan man’s preparation.

“He enjoys himself, he certainly trains and plays with a smile, but he is a hard worker. He is laidback but he works hard,” said Marshall. “He has a good attitude, he is competitive.

jacob-stockdale-celebrates-after-the-game Stockdale is still striving for more consistency. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“As Dan says, he rose so rapidly and he is still so young, he sort of sees where he can put a foot wrong. He was probably potentially the best winger in the world at one stage.

“Obviously, you have such a good season, you could have setbacks the next season and you have to back it up. I think generally if he has a bad game, he normally comes back with a good game. That is tough to do.

“Look at someone in a similar position like Rieko Ioane, who is probably in competition for that best winger, he has fallen off that a bit now and has been unable to back it up.

“Jacob has. He is not the finished article and I think he is doing pretty well.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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