Confidence shaken, but still strong for Jacob Stockdale

The under-fire Ireland fullback admits he moved to shut out the ‘noise’ of social media after last year’s World Cup. But he has still examined his mental approach.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JACOB STOCKDALE EARNED his pound of flesh yesterday.

It might have been easy to send his agent to change his schedule, to duck out of an appearance as a Maxol brand ambassador and escape a grilling.

It’s been known to happen.

Any number of activities would have been preferable to spending half an hour of his day off listening to journalists critique his performance against France or ask him to drill down into his psyche for any sign of a root cause for what he admitted were shortfalls in his ‘basic’ skills.

Still, he arrived in on a Zoom call with impeccable punctuality and responded to questions and concerns over his errors and mental approach patiently, politely and in as much detail as he could.

The upshot of his answers were that sometimes mistakes just happen.  We covered Stockdale’s explanation of his errors yesterday, he accepts the criticism and joked that while he attempts to block out the barbs from the wider public, his closest friends inadvertently allow it to slip through to him.

There was a time, admits the 24-year-old, when every snippet and mention of his name was something to be sought out and pored over. Undoubtedly, most of such reading came as a fillip when Stockdale was running rampant in 2018 and breaking records in try-scoring.

The habit lingered with him right up through last year’s World Cup. Ireland’s failings at that tournament proved the final straw and Stockdale decided to wall out the ‘noise’, changing his privacy settings on social media to ensure he wasn’t in a position to take in criticism from the wider public for either personal of team short-comings.

“It was Rory Best,” says Stockdale when asked if he had been guided to change tack. He didn’t take the advice immediately, but it rings true for him now.

“He probably caught me on my phone looking at Twitter or something like that and he was like: ‘Look mate, it’s all well and good now, but there’s going to be a time when you open that phone and there’s something nasty in there and it’s going to make you feel terrible’.

“I’d say it was probably something I was pretty bad for.

“You know when you’re younger, and I suppose when everything is going well, you’re breaking onto the scene and the majority of things being said about you are good.

“So you’re happy to be searching your name, I would have been searching it on Twitter, rugby forums, anything I could find that I could read about myself I would search it.

“It was actually really after the World Cup that I took a step back and said ‘look, this is genuinely affecting my mental health’.

I was basing my opinion of how I was playing on people I didn’t know, I didn’t even know if they knew the rules and they were telling me I was crap and I believed them.

“So it was pretty much after the World Cup I decided ‘I’m done with this’.”

In this sort of circumstance, short-term memory becomes a strength. Stockdale has shown that trait in his game during his career. Mulling the nature of his mental approach yesterday, he couldn’t help but cite his try against New Zealand in 2018, a chip and chase that came minutes after he flirted with disaster when Kieran Read charged down a similar attempt.

sd1iR38g Jacob Stockdale launches Maxol Aware Christmas fundraiser.

The capricious nature of a bouncing ball is something we all rue now and then. When they stopped popping up into Stockdale’s arms, he has moved to question himself and even examine the nature of confidence itself.

Having tightened the circle of people that he will allow himself be influenced by, the answers presented tell him to stay the course, keep working to iron out the errors and continue playing to his strengths.

“I suppose when you think about the term confidence, it’s essentially the belief (when you ask) am I still a good rugby player? And for me the answer is ‘yeah’.”

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“I wouldn’t be getting picked for Ireland, I wouldn’t be getting picked for Ulster if I wasn’t a good rugby player. My ability level hasn’t changed.

“Yeah, I know I made a mistake at the weekend, but things like that happen. But it’s about being able to push yourself on and you’re still being able to improve as an individual even though the people around you are kind of saying ‘this lad is not great’.

“It was something I thought about over lockdown, I kind of took myself away and was like: ‘Right, look I want to get better at something, what am I going to do? I’m going to focus on my kicking’ and just get that repetition of like really being able to send the ball every time I tried it, and I feel like I have done that.

“So for me that solidifies the fact that you’re still good at rugby. Don’t panic. I’d say, to be honest, that it doesn’t really affect my confidence.

“If I’m able to rise above it because of my faith in my belief that I’m a good rugby player and that I know more than what other people say about me.”

Despite all this extra scrutiny, the slightly altered angles of approach that might have caused him to stutter in his decision-making and the presence of his long-term predecessor as a prominent TV pundit, Stockdale still very much wants the 15 jersey.

And he’s willing to put the work in to earn it again.

“There’s a number of nuances in the 15 role that I’m not used to yet and it’s going to take me a wee bit of a while to get used to… I’m having to learn, not on the fly, but the lessons that I learn are going to be learned in a much bigger sense because I’m playing in that international spotlight.”

It’s hot under the big lights, but Stockdale isn’t about to shy away from them.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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