Thursday 18 October 2018

'Sky is the limit' for free-scoring Stockdale

Flying Ireland winger taking it all in his stride as he targets his first crack at the All Blacks

Jacob Stockdale scoring Ireland’s third try against England. Photo: Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale scoring Ireland’s third try against England. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Nine games, nine wins. 11 tries in his first nine international Tests. Tries scored in four consecutive games. Seven Six Nations tries. Only 18 players in the history of Irish rugby have scored more tries for the country.

The numbers don't lie and for the record-breaking Jacob Stockdale, this really is the season that keeps on giving.

Jacob Stockdale with his parents Rev Graham and Janine Stockdale. Photo: Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale with his parents Rev Graham and Janine Stockdale. Photo: Sportsfile

To think that France are the only team that the supremely talented 21-year-old didn't score against in Ireland's Grand Slam campaign is ridiculously impressive for someone so young, who, let's not forget, was playing in his first ever Six Nations.

Stockdale had a somewhat tough time of it in Paris and while some expected his defensive issues to cost him his place in the team, he has scored in every game since.

Seven championship tries is a Six Nations record, yet you wouldn't know it judging from Stockdale's demeanour, as he remains as grounded as ever.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the electric winger is that he is still far from being the finished article. Defensively he has some creases to iron out, but the longer he works with Andy Farrell the better he will become.

Ireland's defence coach has been working very closely with Stockdale behind the scenes in recent weeks, and that has been reflected in the improvements that he has made as the tournament went on.

The fact that he has already perfected the art of scoring tries at the very highest level offers so much hope that he can indeed become the complete winger.

Joe Schmidt deserves huge credit for sticking with Stockdale after Paris, because had he dropped him, there couldn't really have been too many complaints.

Instead the faith Schmidt showed in him has had a huge ripple effect. It's yet another example of the Kiwi's excellent player management skills.

"Joe is a phenomenal coach," Stockdale, who looked like he had barely broken a sweat, reflected afterwards in Twickenham.

"Him, Andy Farrell, Richie Murphy, all the coaches have been great in improving me as a player. Joe expects the best from every player that steps on to the pitch. Because he's expecting that, you push yourself to try and achieve it."

And therein lies what makes Schmidt stand out from the rest. He backs his young guns, and regardless of age, demands they hit the same standards as the seasoned veterans.

Since making his try-scoring debut against the USA last summer, Stockdale has flourished.

It was no surprise to see his name included in the shortlist for the Player of the Tournament, which he is in with a great shout of winning.

"It's a bit strange," he said of his rapid rise through the ranks. "I met up for a coffee with my dad during the week and we were both saying how strange it was. At the same time, I've gone step by step to get where I am. It's a mixture of emotions.

"It was incredible. We'd been told the families were in the corner so we managed to get over there. I got a hug from my mum and my dad, my girlfriend. My mum was crying, that was a bit embarrassing. It's brilliant to share moments like that."

The manner in which he took his try reflected the confidence that Stockdale is playing with.

Awareness

Having kept his width wide on the right wing, he showed great awareness to make himself available at the ruck after a strong Garry Ringrose carry, before quickly stepping back outside.

England were caught too narrow, and Conor Murray exploited that to perfection as he fed Stockdale, who still had a huge amount to do.

"To be honest, Mike Brown was the last defender and there was a bit of space in behind," he recalled.

"After that, it was a mixture of a bit of instinct and a bit of luck. I managed to get it before it went dead."

Luck was on his side in the way that the ball bounced, but when you're hot, you're hot. Stockdale also benefited from the fact that Eddie Jones extended England's in-goal area by two metres.

"I didn't know that," Stockdale admitted. "Somebody told me afterwards. I wish I could act like it was planned, but it wasn't unfortunately."

Two years ago, Stockdale was part of the Ireland U-20s team who beat New Zealand for the first time and now he has the All Blacks in his sights.

The meeting in November will be special and for Stockdale, it's all about taking that next step. He is in no doubt about what that is.

"We've won a Grand Slam, that's the first stepping stone to being a dominant team in world rugby," he added. "We're sitting number two in the world, and we're excited to have a crack at New Zealand. We're in a really good place right now but there's still a lot to work on.

"Joe hasn't said 'New Zealand is the target', but your ambition is to be the best team in the world and to do that you have to beat the best team in the world. At the minute that's New Zealand. We're going to keep working as hard as we can."

Before that is a summer tour to Australia, when Stockdale will aim to continue his astonishing try-scoring record. It begs the question, how many can he get in his career?

"The sky is the limit I guess."

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