'Complete package' Stockdale poised to make big statement
Fifteen months ago, as the Ireland U-20s were about to embark on what would prove to be a historic Junior World Cup campaign, Jacob Stockdale spoke about his fears of hanging around at Ulster for too long without securing a regular starting place.
As a 20-year-old, you could understand his anxiety, particularly given the queue of wingers ahead of him in Ravenhill.
However, his performances under Nigel Carolan's watch had been such that he had very little to worry about.
Perhaps it was his youthful exuberance or the reality of the modern climate but Stockdale was already wise enough to know that big opportunities lay ahead at home and, more pertinently, in the cash-laden clubs abroad.
The Lisburn native lit up the U-20 World Cup and was instrumental in Ireland reaching a first final.
His sensational try in the semi-final win over Argentina was followed with another moment of magic when his blistering step bamboozled the English defence which helped create a memorable score, this time for Munster's Shane Daly.
Stockdale, like Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery, James Ryan and Andrew Porter, has benefited hugely from playing under a coach like Carolan who empowered the youngsters to play heads-up, running rugby.
Barring Ringrose, who misses out with a shoulder injury, all four players will feature for Ireland this month but it is Stockdale you feel who has the most to gain in November.
Having made a try-scoring debut against the USA on the summer tour, Stockdale has been in scintillating form for Ulster.
At 21, he is far from the finished article just yet but he ticks every box in terms of what Joe Schmidt looks for in a winger.
At 6ft 5in and 102kg, Stockdale has interestingly trimmed down since he was destroying defences at U-20 level.
His intuitive understanding with Charles Piutau has been a joy to watch this season and playing alongside arguably the best player in the PRO14 is going to accelerate his development.
One of the players he has usurped for club and country is Tommy Bowe but the 33-year-old has known for a long time that this moment would arrive.
"Jacob has been a great talent coming through the system for a number of years," Bowe admits.
"I've always had an eye out for him and over the last year and a half, I've been really impressed with how he has dealt with being thrown in.
"He always has an impact in the game. He is very unfazed by it all - getting his first cap in the summer, playing alongside the likes of Charles Piutau. You can see he relishes it.
"I think what Jacob does is that he always beats the first defender. He's a big, strong guy. Trucking it up isn't what you want him to be doing but whenever he does take it into contact, he always seems to get well over the gain-line.
"He has it all to be the complete package. Jacob definitely offers something different to some of the other players."
Bowe hit the nail on the head when he spoke about Stockdale's ability to beat the first defender on almost every occasion.
His power is one thing but he is also deceptively quick, solid under the high ball and a devastating finisher.
With five tries already to his name in this campaign, and after some outstanding performances, he has earned a chance against South Africa on Saturday.
"Jacob's a phenomenal talent," Keith Earls said this week.
"From the moment I saw him and trained with him, I knew he had something special.
"He's been playing unbelievably for Ulster this year - he's massive, he's fast, he's an incredible finisher and he's so strong, he ticks all the boxes.
"He'll make mistakes as he gets older and it will start getting difficult when teams start figuring him out and what he's about, but in my eyes, right now, he ticks every box."
Stockdale has spoken in the past about his desire to end up at outside centre but the way the cards have fallen, he could yet claim one of the winger's spots for years to come.
Playing the Springboks will be a step up from anything he has faced so far in his career but he will relish the call if it comes from Schmidt.
Last month he scored a try-of-the-season contender against Connacht in front of the Kiwi and Andy Farrell.
His fearlessness to run from deep coupled with his lightning step mirrored that of what he did on a regular basis for the U-20s.
If he gets the chance to do so again this weekend, don't be surprised to see Stockdale really announce his arrival on the international stage.
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