Jacob Stockdale is the skillful sprinter every kid wants to be
Ulster winger boasts six tries in Europe this season and 12 in his 14 Ireland caps
Jacob Stockdale of Ulster is mobbed by team mates after scoring a try against Racing 92 at Kingspan Stadium. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
The Jacob Stockdale story is only just beginning. 23 years young in April, all he has achieved so far is a Grand Slam and tries.
Many, may valuable tries. The chip and chase being his speciality, the score in Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day seemed unbeatable until he glided over the All Blacks last November.
In Belfast on Saturday he was man marked by Simon Zebo. The exiled Racing 92 winger once was Stockdale, the rising talent of Irish rugby, the skillful sprinter every kid wants to become.
Zebo, hampered by a dead leg, did not reappear after half-time, and so he avoided any head-on contact with what Ulster coach Dan McFarland describes as “the stardust” sprinkled jewel of the Ulster and Ireland’s offence.
Despite a famous 26-22 Ulster victory, Stockdale left a hat-trick out on the Ravenhill turf. His first try was pure class, shrugging off former Springbok backrow Antonie Claassen - at 6’5” and 104kg, they are the same size - on 13 minutes.
A second touch down momentarily escaped his grasp when stumbling a fingertip stretch away from Will Addison’s clever grubber into the dead ball area on 24 minutes (Zebo began limping after that chase).
“I’ll get the 21 millimetres [STUDS]in next week, so that I don’t slip,” Stockdale beamed afterwards. “That’s rugby, sometimes the ball bounces for you, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Mostly, for him, it does.
The magnificence of his next try cannot be overstated. Arguably better than the efforts against England and New Zealand, he wriggled free of Zebo’s replacement Olivier Klemenczak before taking flight 50 metres from the Racing whitewash. Three French internationals, including fullback Bruce Dulin, blocked his path to the bouncing ball but he somehow re-gathered and broke into the broadest smile, which accompanies almost everything he does nowadays.
It kept Ulster’s European campaign afloat. Leicester are next on the block, charged with stopping a man who boasts six tries in Europe this season and 12 in 14 Ireland caps.
“I haven’t played knockout rugby with Ulster before and that’s obviously something I want to tick off. It’s a massive aspiration for me. There’s not many guys in the squad that have so for us, [IT’S ABOUT]doing what we have been doing all season and playing as well as we can going the last game. Obviously there will be guys in the squad that we can take bits from, like [RORY BEST], that have played in those matches. It’s about doing the things right against Leicester. We have to beat Leicester first of to make sure we definitely get the opportunity to play knockout rugby.”
In between that aspiration is a return to the stage that has seen him out grow any normal expectations for an Irish winger.
“For me, going into the Ireland team and working along with Joe [SCHMIDT]and a few of the other coaches it made me realise how professional you need to be and how good you have to be to maintain a high level of performance. It’s just not just pushed by Joe, but by other senior players in the squad and that’s something that I’ve been trying my best to bring back to Ulster, whether it’s after training pulling a couple of other wingers to do 10 minutes extra after training on our footwork or our tracking in defence, kicking or passing or whatever it is, because that’s the stuff everyone is doing in the Ireland camp and everyone is getting that wee bit better.
“That’s something I have noticed and I’m trying to bring back into the Ulster squad.”