Stockdale suitably refreshed and rarin’ to go against Samoa
His strike rate in terms of tries has dried up a little but Ulster winger remains a potent threat for Ireland
Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale is tackled by Japan’s Ryohei Yamanaka during the the Pool A defeat at Shizuoka Stadium. “I thought in the Japan game particularly, they defended really well as a team.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Jacob Stockdale still has a pretty decent strike rate for Ireland, with 16 tries in 23 Tests. But at this World Cup he’s hardly had a sniff of the try line and his best work has been some of his defensive reads.
It was always likely that his strike rate would dry up to some degree, after scoring 11 tries in his first nine Tests, and 14 in his first 16. There was that well-taken double against Wales in the penultimate warm-up game but they remain his only tries in his last six Ireland games, and the touchdowns had rather dried up for Ulster at the tail end of last season.
Suddenly, Rob Kearney has scored in three successive games, and Keith Earls has yet to add to his record World Cup tally for Ireland or scored the try he needs to move clear of Tommy Bowe as Ireland’s second-highest try scorer of all, time.
Meantime, the ball hasn’t bounced for Stockdale as it seemingly has previously, but he maintains: “I don’t really think about it. Me and Earlsy have had a bit of a joke that neither of us has scored a try yet but to be honest, as long as we’re winning and we’re doing well I’m happy not to be scoring tries. It’s not something that bothers me.”
Stockdale was happy with how he played against Scotland and as for the Japan defeat, he said: “I didn’t feel like I had a bad game but obviously it was a tough game to take just in terms of the loss. Then I wasn’t involved against Russia so I’m just raring to go to hopefully get back on the pitch and be able to play this week. I’ve really, really enjoyed myself and just being in this environment at the moment and it’s a pretty good challenge too.”
Stockdale looks sure to return against Samoa on Saturday but, while it would have seemed unthinkable to question his place in the team before the tournament started, the other outside backs have made a bigger impact to date in Japan.
“I think that’s the great thing about this team, there’s serious depth there within the squad, like Earlsy, Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour, Kearns, they’re all really good players and I think everybody’s kind of gone really well throughout the tournament.
“So yeah, you’re always worried that your place is going to be taken but you just can’t worry about that. You just have to train as best you can and play as best you can and hopefully you keep your spot.”
Stockdale does, undoubtedly, have a body of work behind him in a Test career that is still fledgling, although he still sees the bigger picture.
“I suppose I’ve built up a bit of credit in that sense but at the same time if you’re not playing well enough a coach isn’t going to pick you. That’s the same in a World Cup, like if someone else is playing better than me then they’re going to get picked.
“But having that competition there and pushing each other on with a bit of healthy competition, I think it’s a really good thing.”
Ireland worked the ball to Stockdale on the left wing on a couple of occasions, but the Ulster and Irish winger admitted: “I thought [against Japan] Yamanaka at fullback actually defended really well. He is a very good player. He is just one of those guys that is hard to get around because he is quite a big guy as well.
“I thought in the Japan game particularly, they defended really well as a team. I don’t really feel like there is a marker on my head or anything like that.”
In all of this, it’s still worth reminding ourselves that Stockdale is still only 23, and it’s only three years since his free-spirited and prolific displays at fullback helped Ireland reach the final of the Under-20 World Cup.
“It has come really quickly. I suppose I forget about the fact that I am not really an experienced international rugby player in that sense. But yeah, I just get on with my own game and enjoy yourself. It’s an experience that at the very most comes around once every four years. You can’t be worried about it because you haven’t played an awful lot of international rugby.”
That experience in England three years ago at the Under-20 World Cup has also been beneficial, primarily in the need to recover between games. Rested against Russia, Stockdale should now be suitably refreshed, and says he is.
There is a sense of opportunity knocks this weekend, if underpinned by a fear of failure. But for what it’s worth, the mood music is good from the Irish camp this week, and Stockdale is aboard.
“I think there’s just a few things we need to sharpen up on. I don’t think we’re at panic stations or anything like that, you can see we’re getting into our shape really nicely, there’s just the odd pass not going to hand or maybe we’re not making the right decisions so those kind of wee one-to-two per cent things are making all the difference and they’re really easy to fix.”
It hasn’t happened yet but, like Stockdale himself, this tournament is still young enough for him to make his mark.