Jacob Stockdale keeps striking while the iron is hot

Ulster winger’s sensational start to international rugby continues to gather pace

Ireland’s  Jacob Stockdale races away to score the final try against Wales. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale races away to score the final try against Wales. Photograph: Getty Images

 

It began in Red Bull Arena New Jersey last June against the USA. Two months earlier Jacob Stockdale had tuned 21-years-old. Nobody knew him. He scored a try.

He played his first home game for Ireland in November 2017 against South Africa. He scored a try. Two weeks later he won man-of-the-match in Ireland’s 28-19 victory over Argentina. He scored two tries.

Earlier this month against Italy he scored again. Two tries. And on Saturday he continued the trend. Two tries. Eight tries. Seven international matches.

Stockdale is shaping a reputation faster than anyone before him has ever done in terms of his strike rate. It appears to be growing rather than diminishing, as might be the case when opposition teams become familiar with his play.

“My goal and plan was to play Six Nations when I was 23,” he explains. “That got accelerated with Simon Zebo going to France. I’m pretty happy with how I’m taking my opportunities.”

Stockdale celebrates his secnd try with Conor Murray and Chris Farrell. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times
Stockdale celebrates his secnd try with Conor Murray and Chris Farrell. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

So is Joe Schmidt. Stockdale’s take after 6 minutes and 6 seconds on Saturday and his intercept try on 80 minutes 31 seconds, which allowed the Irish coach to exhale, bookended another mini-spree of scoring.

“(With the) Ireland U 18s I think I was eight (tries) in five games, so yeah I’m dropping off now,” he adds. “You get a test match and you are 30-27 up and there’s two minutes left and they are throwing the ball about . . . yeah there is a lot of pressure there. I thought Wales were really coming back into it.”

Warren Gatland observed that if Stockdale had missed the intercept Wales were queuing up to score out wide. Risk taker?

“I kinda wasn’t thinking should I do this, should I not,” he says. “I saw he was going to throw a long pass and I thought I could get into the space and get it. I still thought that if it went over my head I could still have read it and changed my direction to get out and defend it.

“I knew they would have to go over the top and luckily he threw it over the top and I was in the spot to get it.”

Stockdale scores his first try. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Stockdale scores his first try. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Brian O’Driscoll scored 46 tries in his career, including two Six Nations hat-tricks against France and Scotland. Tommy Bowe has 30 tries, Denis Hickey 29 tries and Keith Earls, the only player in the top four still playing international rugby, 26 tries. O’Driscoll’s haul came over a career of 133 caps, roughly a try every three games.

Intercept tries have not been a striking feature of Stockdale’s offensive game. Schmidt gave him some direction for the match but it was in a different area of his play.

“I’ve tried a few intercepts playing for Ulster and they haven’t come off that many times,” he says. “It just when you see the opportunity you go for it because we want to pressure on the opposition.

“You go in to the game with coaching points and things you need to look out for. Joe wanted me to be really good in the air today and work really hard. That’s something you take into account. But once you’re on the pitch you just do your thing I suppose.”

In the final quarter of the match Stockdale was preparing his arms with a sticky spray when he realised Sexton had taken a tap penalty and run the ball. His assumption was that it was going to be kicked at goal and so he used the time to apply the aerosol, which makes it easier to catch and hold the ball.

“Johnny sees things the way other guys don’t,” he says. “I kinda had a look and thought there’s nothing really on there. And then I went to get sticky spray for my arm because it’s very useful in the air. I heard the crowd roaring and I turned around and Johnny was haring up the line . . . I need to learn to be always switched on to try and keep up with him.”

With James Ryan, Andrew Porter, Dan Leavy, man-of-the-match Chris Farrell and Bundee Aki all of the relatively new faces stood up against Wales. Now Stockdale, who says “how to survive at the top level of rugby” is what he needs to learn, has an outrageous streak in motion.

“It’s not a bad start to my international career,” he says. “Like I’ve been saying, I think the ball just keeps popping up in the right areas. I’m getting the rewards for that.”

Ireland too.

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