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Bowe wishes Earls well as he moves up all-time list and backs Stockdale to follow suit

Earls matched Bowe’s mark of 30 at the weekend, but the veterans can see Stockdale eating up the ground behind them.

KEITH EARLS’ TRY against France on Sunday meant a little more than sealing a bonus point, rubber-stamping a victory or even underlining a day when Ireland returned to form.

The Limerick man’s score took him to joint second in Ireland’s try-scoring ranks, the 30 mark reached only by Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe before him.

Of course, O’Driscoll managed to play on for six years after scoring his 30th Test try against Wales in 2007 and added 16 before finally declaring. Bowe played on for three years after hitting 30 against Romania at the World Cup, but weeks after that brace a horrible knee injury seriously curtailed the Test opportunities that awaited him.

“It’s great for Keith,” said Bowe as a Guinness ambassador yesterday, “I’m very proud of that record, but I knew it wasn’t going to be in concrete for a long time.

“Fair play, he’ll probably play again this weekend. (If he doesn’t score then) I’m sure in the next couple of games he’ll move into second and I’ll have to drop down.

Keith Earls scores their fourth try Keith Earls celebrates his try against France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He adds: “I always was proud of the fact one of my best attributes was getting over to score tries. Probably in the last couple of years I didn’t score as many as I’d have liked.

The way Ireland are playing, they’re scoring a lot of tries, they’re second in the world, it’s a perfect opportunity, but also Keith and Jacob (Stockdale) have been playing exceptionally well.

“To retire as second-highest try-scorer was something I was proud of, but I knew it wasn’t going to last too long.”

Bowe mentions Stockdale in equal billing with the 30 club because he has been so prolific in his short time as a senior international. And time remains very much on the 22-year-old’s side.

The Ulster star has managed to touch down 14 times in his 18 caps since 2017, so Bowe is joking when he says: “sure I think Jacob will probably over-take me by the time the World Cup comes around” but there is a sense that Stockdale is the man to mount a real challenge to O’Driscoll’s 46.

Not that many seen this coming before last year.

“He took a lot of us by surprise,” says Bowe, noting Stockdale was something of a late bloomer on the Ulster Schools scene.

“There was a lot of talk about Jack Owens (now in the Ulster academy), the Campbell fullback, who was a huge prospect at schoolboy level.

“Jack was a bit ahead of Jacob, but he picked up a nasty enough knee injury and that gave Jacob the opportunity to jump in.

“Professional rugby, the way it is nowadays, is about taking your opportunity. There are so many young guys coming through the academies and they get one or two games in the Pro14 to establish themselves and put their hands up. Some take it and some need more time.

“Jacob’s a guy who, every challenge he’s been given, he’s taken the opportunity. He’s stepped up to the mark and gone beyond it…

“He’s just taken to it so comfortably. Whenever myself and Trimby came across him, you obviously see that stature of him. He has a lot of skills and, from an early age he was someone who looked like, when they got the ball in hand would be very dangerous.

“But we’ve all been blown away by the level he’s taken it to.”

Adam Jones and Tommy Bowe Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Despite playing against each other for their respective national teams, Tommy Bowe and Adam Jones caught up through Guinness to spotlight rugby’s extraordinary capacity to unite.

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Sean Farrell

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