Jacob Stockdale relishing return to Japan as things start heating up
Ulster winger’s second Test cap came against Japan on a boiling hot day in Tokyo
Jacob Stockdale at the Ireland press conference at The Campus in Faro, Portugal. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
When Ireland toured Japan in the summer of 2016, having only toured there previously in 2005, it offered an invaluable opportunity to blood some of the prospective squad for the upcoming World Cup and sample conditions in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Despite the presence of 11 Irish players in the Lions squad to tour New Zealand, all told 18 of the 40-man squad currently in warm-weather training in Quinta do Lago, were named in that 31-man squad for the 2017 tour of the USA and Japan.
Tommy O’Donnell was ruled out of the tour due to an ankle injury and following an ankle injury sustained in the Test against the United States, Joey Carbery was ruled out of the two Tests in Japan.
Needless to say, Joe Schmidt has long since been thinking ahead to this World Cup, and of the eight uncapped players in that 31-man squad, Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale were among those blooded by the Irish head coach at Test level.
Stockdale, who made a try-scoring debut against the USA and played the second Test in Tokyo, certainly sees the worth in this eight-day sojourn to the Algarve.
“Yeah definitely, I mean this is probably not even as warm as it was the last time we played in Japan. Obviously that was in June so it was probably a bit warmer than this time around.
“But it will be very hot and very humid so getting this type of training in, in this weather, it really does help acclimatise you to those conditions.”
Having arrived last Wednesday, and having down days on Thursday and Sunday in between big hit outs on Wednesday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday), Stockdale said: “We’re definitely getting used to it. The first couple of days out here was pretty tough and the heat really made a difference. After you’ve trained in it a couple of times, you do get used to it and it’s a good tester for us because it’s going to be like that in Japan.
“After the session is over, you need to cool down really well. Obviously, the times you’re not training you need to be smart – not sitting out in the sun and getting roasted.”
Reflecting on that fortnight in Japan two years ago, Stockdale admitted: “To be honest for the first couple of days I didn’t like it at all, but after the longer you’re there, the more you start to enjoy it and by the end of it I was loving it. So I’m really excited about going back.
“They do everything differently to the way it’s done in Ireland and a big cultural shock, but once you get used to that, I really, really enjoyed it. And it’s just a really cool place to be in and to explore.”
As well as being part of the squad’s bonding process, this acclimatising trek to Portugal has also brought the World Cup more sharply into focus.
“At the start of pre-season you’re kinda going, I’ve got a lot of running to get through before I can even think about going to the World Cup,” said Stockdale. “But no look, it’s come up very, very quickly and it’s becoming a proper reality that in less than a month we’ll be in Japan, which is just dead exciting.”
The prolific 23-year-old left-winger, who has scored 14 tries in 19 Tests, had been given a couple of outings at fullback for Ulster toward the end of last season, but he revealed that he hasn’t been running there at training.
Stockdale is thus expected to make his seasonal re-appearance on the wing against England at Twickenham, where he scored a try in Ireland’s Grand Slam coronation two seasons ago. But that was then, and this is now.
“Yeah, obviously I’ve pretty good memories of Twickenham but at the same time it’s a long time ago. I’m just excited to get back into playing rugby. I haven’t played in a couple of months and you’re always excited for that first game back after pre-season.”