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Billy Stickland/INPHO Ireland's Jacob Stockdale.
# Ready to go
Stockdale wants Ireland to bring 'accuracy married with a bit of venom'
The Ulster wing will make his first appearance in this Six Nations against England today.

ST PATRICK’S DAY in London, 2018. Ireland are Grand Slam champions and Jacob Stockdale is at the absolute top of his game. His superb solo try in that 24-15 win leaves him on seven tries for the campaign. No player had ever scored more across the five games of a Six Nations championship.

Stockdale was 21 and had played just nine times for Ireland. Comic book stuff. 

Things have been a little bit more complicated since. That campaign left him a marked man as Ireland’s most clear and obvious scoring threat. Then 2019 came along and Ireland’s form nosedived. By late 2020 he had been relocated to fullback.

Today’s game against England represents his first appearance of this Six Nations, having missed the early rounds with a knee injury. 

His return feels like a major boost given Ireland’s struggles over the past four games, but a few months ago Stockdale’s place in the team was far from secure. He hasn’t been the try-scoring force of old, but few players could keep up with those numbers. Stockdale scored 11 tries in his first nine games for Ireland but has scored just seven in his 24 caps since.

James Lowe was gunning for Stockdale’s favoured left wing slot and Andy Farrell was a big fan. So far, that move hasn’t gone as hoped.

Stockdale will have sympathy for what Lowe has experienced in recent weeks. The Ulster winger’s own defensive game caused issues in the early days of his career, and while he’s made major improvements in that department since, an error-strewn display from fullback in Paris last year put his name in headlines for the wrong reasons. 

How he’d love to leave a positive mark on this campaign. This afternoon, he starts on the wing for Ireland for the first time in 13 months.

“I’m really confident,” Stockdale says. “All I can base it on is this week’s training. It’s been really good. I’ve got a lot of touches on the ball which is exactly what you want as a winger. Hopefully we can translate this weekend what we are doing in training into the game.

“From talking to the guys, we haven‘t done that in the last few weeks when we’ve been getting those opportunities on the edge, trying to release those one or two passes.

“That can be frustrating as a winger but there are other ways of getting into the game. And that is what James Lowe does brilliantly. When you see him popping up off nine or ten all the time, getting involvements in the game… And that’s something I’m trying to learn from him, and take that into the game.”

Farrell hasn’t been afraid to tinker with the dynamic of his back three. Back in the autumn, it was Hugo Keenan shining on the wing while Stockdale tried to get grips with playing fullback at Test level. The pieces have now moved again.

“Obviously Hugo has been playing brilliantly and I’m excited to get in beside him now and play alongside him,” Stockdale continues.

hugo-keenan-offloads-the-ball-to-jacob-stockdale-despite-chris-harris Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Stockdale played at fullback, with Keenan on the wing, in the autumn. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“In terms of dynamic, it doesn’t change that much. We still have to be connected even though maybe our roles have reversed. To a certain degree it’s handy, I know what he wants from me as a fullback and he knows what I want from him as a winger. So when those roles are swapped, it makes it a bit easier.”

While Stockdale has yet to be seen in an Irish jersey this year he’s been steadily building up his minutes with Ulster as he worked his way back from that knee injury.

A 40-minute run-out against the Ospreys at the end of February was followed by two 80 minute performances against Leinster and Dragons.

He’s also used the last few months to make some physical adjustments, with Farrell noting during Thursday’s press conference that the 24-year-old has trimmed down.  

“I just had a think about it when I first got injured,” Stockdale says of his weight.

I came to the conclusion that my game isn’t exactly going to be about running over the top of lads, it’s trying to find soft shoulders and going round fellas. I figured, I was 103/104kgs at the start of my injury, even if I was 98/99kgs I’d still be heavier and bigger than the majority of back-three players in world rugby.

“It made sense when I thought about it that way to slim down a bit. I’ve not decided how far I’m going to slim down yet. I’m sitting at 98/99kgs at the moment and feeling good. I’ll see how far I go, but that was the reason.”

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It’s not often we hear wingers talking about trying to lose bulk in the modern era, and Stockdale admits his thinking raised a few eyebrows.

“I found it difficult to convince S&C coaches and nutritionists that I wanted to get smaller,” he says.

“The guys at Ulster always have the mentality that whatever feels right for the individual, and I wanted to drop down the weight. If it didn’t go well and I was finding it tough I can always put it back on but so far it seems to be going well.”   

Stockdale has golden memories of beating England, but that 2018 game in Twickenham is the only time he’s come out on the right side of the result against Eddie Jones’ team, having played in the four defeats that have followed that Grand Slam win. Still, it’s a valuable experience he’ll continue to lean on.

“I remember what stood out for me from that game in Twickenham are two things,” he explains.

“Our physicality early on – I think Dylan Hartley ran short into James Ryan and Dan Leavy and they put him back about five metres. It set a potential marker early on and that is something you have to do against England, win that physical battle.

“And married to that is probably being accurate. Not being afraid to play rugby but when you do, making sure the passes go to hand, not giving them any easy balls on the ground they can scoop up and put in behind you.

“Accuracy married with a bit of venom is the way forward.” 

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey preview Ireland’s game against England and try to figure out where this team is going under Andy Farrell, if anywhere:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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