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Dublin: 4°C Sunday 17 January 2021

'A lot of the criticism quite annoyed me because I felt a lot of it was unfair'

The 23-year-old Ireland wing says he reads everything that’s written about him.

WHEN JACOB STOCKDALE finished Ireland’s first try last weekend against Wales in Cardiff, he let the pent-up emotion out.

Leaping to his feet, he slapped his chest and grabbed the crest on his jersey, clearly pumped up to have dotted down after what had been a tough week.

jacob-stockdale-celebrates-his-try Stockdale celebrates for Ireland in Cardiff. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The aftermath of a record 57-15 defeat in Twickenham the week before had seen Stockdale take widespread criticism and even some abuse online, with his defence being rather inaccurately singled out.

Defending on the wing when others on the inside of the defence have already made mistakes can be truly thankless, and 23-year-old Stockdale wasn’t happy with what he read and heard.

He acknowledges that he didn’t have his best game against England, yet the chat around his performance seemed too much.

“To be honest, I’d say a lot of the criticism quite annoyed me because I felt a lot of it was quite unfair but, at the same time, it probably gave me a lot of good motivation,” said the Ulster man.

“Reading a few tweets gets you a bit rattled up and prepared for the next week. A lot of people say you shouldn’t read stuff but I do.

“I read the good stuff and the bad stuff because the good stuff is nice, to see people saying nice things about you, and the bad stuff gives me a lot of motivation to prove people wrong. It was really important for me.

“I suppose to a certain extent I was surprised by maybe how much I got because there were a few things I felt weren’t my fault.

“But, at the same time, it was one of my poorer performances in an Ireland shirt and in sport you’re going to get people who aren’t happy with how you played and that’s fair enough. Like I said, it gave me good motivation for last week to put in a good performance.”

jacob-stockdale Stockdale felt the criticism was unfair. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The only feedback that Stockdale tried to take on board specifically was that of his coaches, Joe Schmidt and defence specialist Andy Farrell.

“Andy Farrell was brilliant. He went through each individual thing with me. He did say ‘This was my fault, that wasn’t my fault’. But he also did give me a work-on with things I can do better. I did take a lot of learnings from that game as well.”

The flowing hairstyle that Stockdale had sported against the English was gone a week later as he dotted down twice in Cardiff, but the Ireland wing says he wasn’t giving into some nasty messages in that sense.

“I got a few very abusive messages, mainly about the hair actually,” he said with a laugh.

“That wasn’t the reason I got it cut. I felt like a change, it actually had nothing to do with the rugby and what people were saying. I just kind of decided to. I lost about three or four kilos by getting it cut I’d say!” 

Joe Schmidt’s decision to retain Stockdale in his team to face the Welsh last time out paid dividends with those two tries – his first scores for Ireland or Ulster since February – and a thoroughly impressive 40-minute performance that flooded him with confidence.

“In fairness as a winger you want to be scoring tries and I hadn’t scored I think since the Italy game in the Six Nations,” said Stockdale.

“It was important for me personally to get back on the scoresheet. I have to give Andrew Conway a fair bit of credit for that first one, I think that was pretty much his, fortunately I was there to finish it off. It was just nice to get over the whitewash again and get back on track.”

Stockdale’s second was a real poacher’s effort, as he nudged ahead a loose Aaron Shingler offload and showed real top-end pace to beat Hallam Amos to the tryline.

“I’d it’s between me and maybe Earsly,” said Stockdale with a smile when asked if he’s the fastest in the Ireland squad. “Earsly and Jordan [Larmour] would be quickest off the mark but after 30 or 40 metres, I will start to pick up with the long legs!”

jacob-stockdale-scores-a-try Stockdale has 16 tries in 21 Tests. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That double in Cardiff now leaves Stockdale on 16 tries in his 21 Tests so far, putting him in the all-time top 10 for Ireland already.

But there were also defensive qualities from Stockdale at the Principality Stadium, with his early breakdown turnover catching the eye.

“I see it as something of a strength of mine, getting over ball, especially in the wide areas where the lads who are trying to clear you out are a bit smaller.

“I wouldn’t back myself in the middle of the pitch. It was just nice for my first involvement of the game to get a turnover. I was pretty happy with the defensive side of my game.

“Obviously I’ve still got a lot of work-ons, I always will, but I was pretty happy with how it went.” 

It hardly came as a shock to anyone that Stockdale got an email from Schmidt on Sunday congratulating him on making Ireland’s World Cup squad, but the player himself had still experienced a couple of last-minute doubts that day. 

There was, therefore, some relief as his email notification finally went off as he was watching Netflix.

Stockdale’s strongest early World Cup memories are of the 2011 tournament, as he became properly obsessed with it for the first time.

“I remember the semi-final and the final from 2007 but 2011 was the first time I watched every group match.

“I was getting up at like four in the morning to watch matches because it was over in New Zealand. I think the games were 4am, 7am, 11am, something like that.

“I was a zombie in school for about seven weeks. I remember watching every single game, being obsessed with it for a while.”

jacob-stockdale-and-andrew-porter Stockdale heading to Ireland training with Andrew Porter. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I remember Ireland against Australia and Tommy [Bowe] got the intercept off Quade Cooper when he got chased down by James O’Connor. I probably would have scored it! 

“It was a Saturday and we were playing Blackrock with Wallace. I was playing for the seconds. Tommy intercepted it and we were watching it with the Blackrock lads in school and the entire place was just going crazy like ‘Go, go, go!’”

Stockdale was in fifth year at that time and the fact that he was playing for Wallace’s seconds team underlining how rapid his rise has been since.

He jokes that 100 tries for Ireland over the course of his career would be nice, but he is focused on making a big impact in Japan in the coming weeks.

His whole family is already booked to travel out to support him and Stockdale feels in fine fettle to have a major crack at this tournament, crediting the work of Ireland’s S&C team, Jason Cowman and Ciaran Ruddock, for getting him into prime shape.

Now it’s time to show the world what he and Ireland can do. 

“If my first World Cup goes as well as my first Six Nations I’ll be doing alright,” said Stockdale. “I’m just incredibly excited to get out there and get playing and see how it goes from there.”

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Bernard Jackman make the case for Ireland winning… and tanking at the Rugby World Cup, as we gear up for Wales again: 

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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