Jacob Stockdale: I pray before the game, I pray after the game, I pray during the game sometimes

‘The guys that I play with are my really close friends whether they are Christian or not’

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale and England’s Henry Slade during the Ireland V England Six Nations Rugby Championship. Photograph:s Tom Honan

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale and England’s Henry Slade during the Ireland V England Six Nations Rugby Championship. Photograph:s Tom Honan

 

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Jacob Stockdale has spoken about the difficulty of being a practicing Christian on a sports field.

“It’s a challenge that I don’t always get right; sometimes I can get into fights on the pitch and do things that probably don’t point towards me being a Christian,” he has admitted.

The 22-year-old also said that “there is a very small percentage of people who have any sort of Christian faith within the rugby world and that can he a tough challenge,” he said.

His father rev Graham Stockdale is a Presbyterian Minister who has served congregations throughout Northern Ireland and is currently chaplain to Newry Hospice in Co Down and Maghaberry prison near Lisburn to Antrim.

Jacob is a leader with the youth group at Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church in Co Down. “Growing up in a Christian family, it was something you always said - that you were Christian - it is part of your culture almost,” he said in a interview with the March issue of the Presbyterian Herald.

He was 14 when he realised that “Christianity was more than just going to church with my family on a Sunday - it was about having a relationship with God,” he said.

He prays a lot when it comes to games. “I pray before the game; I pray after the game; I pray during the game sometimes. It’s great to be able to do that, especially when it’s a game where things aren’t going your way - to hand it over to God and allow him to deal with it for you.”

But when it come to the rugby culture, he said “I’m a firm believer that you can’t completely detach yourself from that culture because it makes it hard to socialise, to interact with your teammates.

“At the end of the day, the guys that I play with are my really close friends whether they are Christian or not. When you have team socials where there is a lot of drinking involved, you have to balance it; go, maybe have a few drinks but know when to stop drinking and be smart about it in that sense.”

It was “detrimental not to go to team socials and to distance yourself from your teammates and colleagues - at the end of the day you’re here to be an evangelist and separating yourself from others doesn’t help,” he said.

Being around other Christian rugby players such as Ruan Pienaar, Andrew Trimble, and Paul Marshall “was great in terms of moulding me and giving me confidence to be myself,”he said.

Asked what readers of the Herald should pray for in the context of the 6 Nations and the Rugby World Cup, he said his main request for prayer would be “for protection and not just for me, but for my teammates also. You don’t like to see players getting hurt and missing out on a huge opportunity like that.”