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'Both have massive futures ahead of them if they keep their heads down'

Rob Lyttle and Jacob Stockdale are in impressive form early this season.

“THE BACK THREE is just stacked”

Ulster back row Clive Ross succinctly sums up the province’s enviable array of options in the fullback and wing positions.

Names like Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik, Charles Piutau, Tommy Bowe and perhaps Jared Payne – he may well be deployed at 13 upon his return – instantly come to mind.

Jacob Stockdale and Robert Lyttle Stockdale and Lyttle were in form last weekend. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

However, early this season there are a pair of younger, less-established wide men adding to Les Kiss’ selection headache.

Robert Lyttle and Jacob Stockdale both impressed again in last weekend’s Guinness Pro12 opener against the Dragons, underlining their rich potential.

“With some of the boys being away and player welfare stuff with the IRFU, the boys got an opportunity in the pre-season games and they’ve really stepped up,” says Ross.

Lyttle has been remarkably prolific in recent weeks. The 19-year-old Queen’s man scored a try in the first pre-season game against Leinster in August to get himself off to a fine start.

One week later, he was given 10 minutes off the bench against Exeter Chiefs and made a hugely-impressive impact. First, the academy wing superbly gathered in Brett Herron’s diagonal kick to show off his handling ability.

Kick Try

Minutes later, Lyttle scored an even better try after taking possession 10 metres inside Ulster’s half.

The Donaghcloney man showed a sharp burst of pace, followed with an intelligent pirouette to take him through one tackle effort, then turned on his speed again and finished strongly through a second tackle attempt.

Lyttle

Fast forward to the Northampton Saints’ visit to Kingspan Stadium in the pre-season and, again, Lyttle shone.

He showed another part of his skillset in kicking all four of his shots at goal off the tee, while also calmly putting Louis Ludik away for a try.

That pre-season form meant a place on the bench for last weekend’s Pro12 meeting with the Dragons and when Craig Gilroy suffered concussion early in the game, Lyttle once again took his opportunity.

His first try came after a sublime grubber kick from the influential Ruan Pienaar, 88kg Lyttle pouncing as the ball bobbled.

1

The Methodist College Belfast alumnus followed that score up with a truly delightful finish for his second, after excellent work from Piutau.

With the touchline threatening on his right, Lyttle acrobatically and cleverly lifted his feet off the ground, sent his body gliding through the air away from the despairing grasp of Pat Howard, and then dotted the ball down while airbourne.

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A stunning finish.

“I’m hoping Robert Lyttle doesn’t get too much game time now!” jokes Ireland international wing Trimble. “He’s a talented boy.”

Lyttle, who played for Ireland Schools and was part of the Ireland U20 squad during this year’s Six Nations without being capped, looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

20-year-old Stockdale, who starred for Ireland at the World Rugby U20 Championship in June, was also in impressive form on Ulster’s left wing last weekend after a fine pre-season.

He started the friendly clash with Leinster, then got on the end of another smart kick from Herron in the Exeter fixture.

JS

It was a straightforward finish with time and space for Stockdale, who then benefited from supreme Ulster build-up play against Northampton to score again.

This time, Kiss’ men struck with a set-piece move they adore and then Piutau produced a moment of offloading magic to tee Stockdale up.

Jacob

Buoyed by those two finishes, Stockdale made it three tries in four games last weekend against the Dragons.

The former Wallace High School student was wholly responsible for creating this one – his first in the Pro12 – gathering in his own brilliant grubber kick to dot down.

Stockdale

Stockdale, who also played with the Ireland U20s in 2015, has lots of experience at fullback and a desire to play at outside centre, so it will be interesting to note where he ends up playing in the longer-term.

For now, he has brought his confidence into the start of the season, having started five Pro12 games for Ulster last season.

Stockdale has strong self-belief and will back himself to remain a starter for Ulster even when international players return to the mix.

“I have a lot of aspirations for my career and I don’t want to be 24 or 25 and not starting for my club team,” said the Belfast Harlequins man before the World Rugby U20 Championship.

“Obviously, I’m going to try and do my best to push through at Ulster because that’s where I grew up. That’s the team I want to play for the most, but at the same time I do need to keep my options open and see what happens really.”

Stock

While Stockdale and Lyttle have much to learn, their raw potential and attacking ability is certainly an exciting prospect for Ulster.

“Both of them are very young and they’ve got massive futures ahead of them if they keep their heads down and do the right things,” says Ross. “They’ve been very impressive.

“It’s going to give Kissy a few headaches and there’s no shortage of quality back three players here. Those guys need opportunities to develop, so there’ll be a balance there.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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