Jacob Stockdale keeping his feet firmly on the ground
In-form winger will pose a major threat to Harlequins at the Kingspan Stadium
Jacob Stockdale: “You have to take everything with a pinch of salt. It’s only good performances that create the buzz.” Photograph: Henry Browne/Getty Images
He might reasonably wonder what all the fuss is about – if he’d time to reflect on a rugby career still in the formative stages.
He doesn’t though as he’s in demand for club and country so there’s little time to pause and bask in his accomplishments. It’s not in his nature anyway; he’s too self aware, grounded and ambitious to have his head turned at the first sign of success.
But nor is he impervious to the adrenaline rush that comes with scoring tries, the latest of which came in Ulster’s Champions Cup victory over Harlequins at The Stoop last Sunday. Stockdale laughed that his celebrations were unexpectedly curtailed by a team-mate.
“I can’t take too much credit for the try, it was created by John Cooney and I flopped over the line. I was a wee bit annoyed I didn’t get to celebrate it because [Harlequins and England fullback] Mike Brown and [Ulster’s Stuart] McCloskey had a fight. I’ve been giving him a hard time about taking away my celebration from me.”
His team-mates keep Stockdale fairly grounded (if taking into account the good-natured abuse) while the workload doesn’t allow for much daydreaming. He knows people have been complimentary about the impact he continues to make – team-mates, coaches, opponents and supporters – but isn’t getting carried away by the praise.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in how well you’re playing but one bad game can turn that round and you’ll have people saying ‘aw, maybe he isn’t as good as we thought he was’. You have to take everything with a pinch of salt. It’s only good performances that create the buzz.”
The former underage international – he helped Ireland to an Under-20 World Championship final in 2016 – scored a try on his senior debut in the green shirt against the USA on the summer tour, crossed for a second in the November Test against South Africa and then tagged on a brace in the final game of that series against Argentina.
He was asked to compare and contrast the Irish squads – without those players that toured with the Lions during the summer and then including them at training camp last month.
“It was a great experience, working with different guys, [taking in] different points of view on how to do different things. It was tough but it was a really good challenge,” says Stockdale.
“There’s an incredible wealth of knowledge in Irish rugby. I’ve been lucky enough to have Tommy [Bowe], Charles [Piutau], Trimby [Andrew Trimble], Gilly [Craig Gilroy], guys who are all vastly experienced in international rugby.
“Going down to camp, you get more of that. I’ve been lucky enough to have those guys around me so it wouldn’t make any sense not to pick their brains, to ask them what they think would be best in certain situations.
“Joe [Schmidt] demands excellence and that’s why Irish rugby has been so successful under him. I came back with a good few work-ons that I want to turn into strengths over the course of the season.”
Despite his tender years, Stockdale is adamant that with his new status as an international comes a responsibility to have a vocal input. He looked on while Ulster suffered a few performance blips in the Pro14 and, by his own admission, couldn’t wait to get back.
“I was coming in and thinking ‘I’m going to sort everybody out, sort this out sort that out’. You have to take a step back and let people work on their own game, allow people to do that. That’s what brings the performances and we saw that against Harlequins.
“That being said, you have to drive standards and everybody has to demand the best of themselves. If somebody isn’t giving that, then you go in on them. It’s probably not my place to be doing it, but that is a challenge. I feel very comfortable with all the guys. If I try to drive to standards and stuff, I don’t think they’d be going ‘what’s this 21-year-old doing, he’s only just here?’”
Harlequins are without several high-profile players from last week and, while Stockdale argues that the visitors can’t be underestimated, he must relish the prospect of another opportunity to enhance his burgeoning reputation and try -scoring feats, both of which could receive further burnishing in Belfast on Friday night.