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Andy Farrell sticks with tried and tested - but pressure is on one 2018 star to deliver

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Keith Earls (right) and Jacob Stockdale are in direct competition for a spot on the wing. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Keith Earls (right) and Jacob Stockdale are in direct competition for a spot on the wing. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Keith Earls (right) and Jacob Stockdale are in direct competition for a spot on the wing. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The last time, and in fact, the only time Jacob Stockdale played at Twickenham in the Six Nations, one of his then trademark bounces of the ball went his way as he scored a sensational individual try.

Two years ago, everything Stockdale touched turned to gold, but that Midas touch has deserted him lately as he finds that half-yard of space harder to come by.

Much of that is down to the fact that the Ireland winger is now a marked man and opposition teams are paying a lot more attention to him than when he first broke on to the scene.

Stockdale was never going to be able to maintain his staggering try-scoring rate, which saw him cross the whitewash a record seven times in his first Six Nations campaign in 2018.

The 23-year-old has almost become a victim of his own success in that regard, yet such are the high standards that he set for himself he is invariably going to be judged on them.

The World Cup didn't go his way and while you could say the same for Ireland across the board, it was a missed opportunity for Stockdale to really make his mark on the main stage.

He has now gone six Ireland games without scoring a try and when you consider that he has only dotted down once in eight Ulster games this season, the barren spell is something of a concern.

That solitary try for Ulster came against Munster on January 2, which ended a rare 10-game spell without a try for his province, dating back to January last year.

Stockdale's back-three partners Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway scored in the win over Wales as the attacking game-plan really flourished. Ireland didn't get their back-three players involved in the play often enough last year, but it appears that Andy Farrell and Mike Catt have been giving them more of a licence to do so.

That should be music to Stockdale's ears and you get the feeling that if he gets one try, he could easily go on another run. Yet the pressure is on because Keith Earls is breathing down his neck.

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It's not all about scoring tries but for a winger who knows nothing else, Farrell will be encouraging him not to get too caught up in the mental battle that may bring.

As much as some supporters want to discard the old guard, the performances of CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony in the opening two wins were a timely reminder that they still have a lot of offer.

Earls also falls into that category and like his Munster team-mates, he looked sharp when called upon off the bench against Wales.

Ireland are a better team with a fit and firing Earls in it, but with Conway pretty much undroppable right now, the spotlight naturally falls on Stockdale.

He is not naive enough to think that won't be the case and while he has earned another chance, Earls is piling on the pressure.

Ireland will target England's back-three on Sunday and for all the advantages that his 6ft 3in frame afford him, Stockdale doesn't always make a big enough physical impact in aerial contests.

His defence has improved however, and that will be tested by the pace and elusive running of Jonny May.

It's easy to forget that Stockdale is still only in his third full season as a first-choice international winger but even still, it is difficult to get away from the fact that he is due a big performance.

Twickenham isn't exactly an ideal venue to be searching for that, yet he has delivered there in a high-pressure game in the not too distant past.

If he can do so again, Stockdale can continue to keep Earls at bay.


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