Monday 23 September 2019

Stockdale happy to keep learning as he feels right at home on the international stage

Midway through the first half against Italy, Ireland won a penalty in their own half, which Johnny Sexton set up to kick to touch, writes Cian Tracey.

Jacob Stockdale arrives for the Ireland Rugby captain's run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale arrives for the Ireland Rugby captain's run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The option of a quick tap or a cross-field kick seemed neither on nor wise, but the Ireland out-half doesn't read the game like most players and when Jacob Stockdale wasn't alive to the possibility wide on the left wing, he was subsequently on the end of a trademark Sexton scolding.

Welcome to the big time, where everyone, regardless of their age or experience, is expected to be on the same wavelength as Ireland's talisman.

"Yeah, my mate sent me that link, so he did, and said, 'you better watch yourself'," Stockdale smiles.

"Johnny holds himself to incredibly high standards when he is training. He expects that from everyone else which is brilliant but he's a great guy off the pitch and after the game I didn't feel like I was in trouble. He's a really good guy."

It's all part of the learning curve for Stockdale, whose performances since graduating from the U-20s have been of such a high level that when he drops below an 8/10 people wonder what's going on.

Last month, the 21-year-old had a tough time of it defensively against Leinster at the RDS, but tricky days at the office are all part of the process.

"If you don't play well, there is an opportunity to learn from it," the Ulster winger maintains.

"If you play well, there are also opportunities. At the stage I'm at in my career, it's about taking as much information as I can from guys who are more experienced than me and from the coaches.

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"I set really high standards for myself. Every time I go out on to the pitch, I want to be the best player on the pitch.

"I'm just as disappointed as everyone else whenever I don't play well. There is a little bit of pressure but most of it is put on me by myself."

This time last year, Stockdale was sitting at home in his parents' house watching the Six Nations.

Reflecting on the last 12 months, he has come a long way but he still has some distance left to go to get to where he wants to be.

"To be watching it at home last year and to be playing in it this year is something pretty special," he admits.

"The goal I had set myself was to be playing in the Six Nations by the time I was 23, so I didn't see it coming. I'm incredibly happy.

"Now it's (goal) to win a Six Nations. I'm playing in it now and I want to win it. Further along from that, it's World Cups and being successful with Ulster. I have a lot of goals still to achieve.

"I definitely am getting more used to it (international environment). I don't know if I would ever describe it as daunting but it definitely is a really big challenge.

"It's always a big challenge but it's something I am getting used to and starting to enjoy.

"It's starting to become more and more like a routine now rather than something like, 'wow, this is really different and special'.

"It's something that I need to be wary of. It's become something I'm quite comfortable with."

Reintroducing two Lions in Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams to the Wales back-three highlights the scale of the task that Stockdale has on his hands at Lansdowne Road this afternoon, but he isn't daunted by the prospect of facing them.

"To be honest I enjoy the atmosphere running out. I try to do my best to soak it all in and really enjoy it rather than try to block it out and worry about it," he adds.

"They've brought in Dan Biggar and Liam Williams, who are two of their most experienced players.

"We know Dan Biggar is probably coming with a great kicking game and Liam Williams is really good in the air.

"They're two really quality players and it's going to be a tough ask but I've played against Liam Williams before and I have a bit of experience against him.

"He's a good player but I think I should be able to handle him."

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