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Stockdale 'stardust' leaves Ulster in control of their destiny

Dan McFarland has the northern province on the verge of their first quarter-final since 2014.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

ON A NIGHT when momentum rolled and shifted back and fro so often, the predictability of the hero and the familiarity of his match-winning score came as an immense comfort. 

Jacob Stockdale’s second try in Ulster’s 26-22 win over Racing 92 came by way of his trademark chip over the top followed by a muscular sprint onto the loose ball. He’s tilted games in Twickenham and the Aviva with the skill, and now he has a big game in Belfast adorned too.

“He’s got a bit of stardust, hasn’t he,” said Ulster coach Dan McFarland post-match.

His star man doesn’t need effusive praise. The quality and constant danger he poses to opposition defences is obvious to all.

There wasn’t much for Stockdale to say either. Try-scoring hero is almost a neutral position now for a young man with 26 tries in 50 appearances for his province.

“It felt pretty good just to be able to push us the extra wee bit ahead,” said Stockdale.

“In the end, it made a difference in the game. It was a nice try to be able to score and push us ahead as a team.”

Nice, but better than the similar effort against New Zealand?

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‘Ah, I dunno. Haven’t seen it yet. I’ll let you know during the week.”

Ulster’s post-match words were full of praise for the effort put in by a sqaud which was heavily mismatched on paper against last season’s European runners-up. If there was a reluctance to rejoice, it is because they are close to securing a first quarter-final berth since 2014. But they are not there yet.

“We’ve put things back in our control, that’s how we’re looking at it,” says McFarland.

Winning Pool 4 is a live target again thanks to tonight’s hard-won victory. But if the Racing do not slip up, Ulster are still in prime position to take one of the three best runners-up slots in the knockout rounds.

Rory Best after the game Bloody, happy Rory Best. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Their current tally of 18 points leaves them better off than all four second-placed rivals before Glasgow get underway in Pool 3 tomorrow. The aim, however, is not to cling on to that total. McFarland is sending his side to beat Leicester next weekend to seal the deal.

“Next week — playing Leicester at Welford Road, what an experience. Forget the table, what a place to go and try to win, a Titan of European rugby.

“Let’s just say we had qualified already, it’s not going to happen, but let’s say we had, we would still be going there to win. You just cannot approach a week without that because you just want to win. That is what is it about, just winning.”

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Sean Farrell

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