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'Jacob came up to me to apologise and said 'I want to speak in the changing room''

Rory Best has backed Jacob Stockdale to become a better player for his chastening experience at the weekend.

JACOB STOCKDALE CUT a forlorn and inconsolable figure upon the final whistle at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, the Ulster winger visibly distraught as the implications of his chastening mistake raced through his mind.

It was difficult to watch the 22-year-old walk aimlessly around the pitch at full-time as he no doubt felt the weight of responsibility for his side’s agonising Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster on his young shoulders. 

Jacob Stockdale dejected after the game It has been a difficult few days for Jacob Stockdale. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Stockdale’s failure to ground the ball in the in-goal area not only cost Ulster a crucial try, at which point they led Leinster 13-11, but arguably a place in a European semi-final as the momentum of the match swung on that 46th-minute incident.

Having enjoyed a rapid rise over the last two seasons, Stockdale has endured the first blip of his nascent career, and such was the level of criticism from some quarters, felt the need to apologise to Ulster supporters for his mistake on social media.

That moment, an inability to ground the ball in the far corner of the Aviva Stadium, will haunt him for some time and certainly there will be plenty of regrets if Ulster fail to kick on and finish their season strongly in the Pro14 in the coming weeks. 

Such was Stockdale’s devastation, he asked captain Rory Best for permission to speak to the Ulster team in the changing room after the game as Dan McFarland’s side came agonisingly close to beating the defending European champions.

“He came over to me when the boys were doing the lap and he apologised and said ‘I want to speak in the changing room,’” Best explained this afternoon. 

“So I said ‘what for?’ and he said ‘you know what for, I need to apologise.’ I said ‘you don’t need to apologise because with the way you played and some of the moments you had in that game and there are very few wingers who would even be across to try that’ and he said he needed to.

“It’s also important that the players feel that, they take responsibility, but they have their message the way they want it. I said ‘if you’re sure you want to do it, by all means you can have the floor.’

“He said something along the lines of what he said on social media and it was like a moment in the House of Commons, there was uproar in the changing room, everyone was trying to back him up but we just had to calm down.

“This Ulster squad for the last 12 months, we’ve based a lot of what we do around how strong collectively we are and this is just an example of ‘let’s see how strong we can be’ and how we bounce back together. No one would ever hang a player as good as Jacob and as likeable as Jacob.”

Best commended Stockdale’s honesty in addressing the incident and his error on social media after the game, saying: “I think Jacob did the right thing. It’s not necessarily what I would do, social media is not something I utilise to the best of my ability but I think Jacob met it head on and he put a statement out and I think people appreciated the fact that he did it.

“Sometimes people forget that there is a human being on the other side of all the abuse and I think his statement on social media showed that human side of it. I think when you actually get to the human side of it, it leaves it a lot harder to troll and abuse someone.

“You remember that that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s best friend, that’s somebody’s brother, and I think that’s what Jacob did well, he got across what we got to witness in the changing room afterwards, how heartbroken he was for the team that he has grown up all his life wanting to play for.”

Rory Best Rory Best was speaking in Dublin today as a Specsavers ambassador. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With three key Pro14 games to come for Ulster, starting with Friday’s trip to Glasgow Warriors, Best hopes Stockdale can turn the page and put the incident to bed by getting back to doing what he does best between now and the end of the season.

“Jacob will take a learning from it, whether it’s how he changes the way he scores or if he’s more aware of his surroundings or what, I don’t know, that will be for him to take a learning from,” the Ireland captain added.

“In terms of try-scoring ability, he would be one of the last people that I would be criticising.

“The problem with it is when you look at that one moment in isolation, there’s been a bit of criticism. When you look at his game, it’s almost a scenario of if he dots that ball down, he’s potentially the man of the match because I thought his battle with Adam Byrne was one of the, if you’re a rugby purist and you like the wing play, that was probably one of the greatest battles between two wingers and I thought Jacob was absolutely incredible all game.

“He’ll use this and he’ll bounce back. He’s bitterly disappointed but unfortunately, it’s something that you have to get used to. If you’re going to be a top-level professional rugby player, you’re going to have some bitter disappointments along the way and probably what sets apart the ones who stay around the longest and the ones who achieve the most are the ones that bounce back strongest.

“From what I’ve seen of Jacob Stockdale so far, I’ve no doubt he will bounce back.”

Rory Best today launched the Specsavers Audiologists’ ‘Don’t Suffer in Silence’ campaign, that encourages Irish adults to take a more proactive approach to their hearing health. New Research reveals that almost half of Irish adults worry about losing their hearing. Rory is an advocate of proactive hearing health, gets tested whenever he suffers from hearing symptoms and knows first-hand what it’s like to live with family members who have hearing loss.

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Ryan Bailey

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