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Stockdale's switch to full-back can add spark to Ulster and Ireland


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Jacob Stockdale with team-mates Rob Herring (L) and Marty Moore (R) at the launch of Ulster’s Kingspan-sponsored #StandUpTogether jersey to be worn in this weekend’s clash with Leinster. Photo: John Dickson

Jacob Stockdale with team-mates Rob Herring (L) and Marty Moore (R) at the launch of Ulster’s Kingspan-sponsored #StandUpTogether jersey to be worn in this weekend’s clash with Leinster. Photo: John Dickson

Jacob Stockdale with team-mates Rob Herring (L) and Marty Moore (R) at the launch of Ulster’s Kingspan-sponsored #StandUpTogether jersey to be worn in this weekend’s clash with Leinster. Photo: John Dickson

Jacob Stockdale's appearance in Ulster's No 15 jersey last weekend meant that he has now started more games at full-back this season than he has done in any other position.

Time will tell whether or not that was a consequence of Ulster missing a couple of bodies from their back-three, but it does open up new possibilities for both club and country.

It would be interesting to know what Andy Farrell makes of the whole thing and, also, if he has been in contact with Dan McFarland about playing Stockdale at full-back more often.

Jordan Larmour's struggles under the high ball against Munster came as another reminder that the Leinster man has plenty of work to do if he is to nail down that starting spot.

Larmour has freely switched between wing and full-back throughout his fledgling career, and while Stockdale has done the same on occasion, his three starts at 15 this season may point to a longer-term plan.

Like Larmour, Stockdale hasn't been without his faults, as his defending in the wider channels has often been called into question.

Ability

There is, however, no doubting his attacking ability, and the more he can get on the ball, the bigger threat he is.

The same logic applies to Larmour, of course, and as both youngsters continue to fine-tune the nuts and bolts of their overall games, it will be fascinating to watch how they develop.

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Will Addison's back injury has forced the issue at Ulster somewhat, yet it's not difficult to see the value in Stockdale moving to the back field.

As an U-20 international, Stockdale was an accomplished full-back, and for all that is a very different ball game compared to the rigorous demands of professional rugby, it has been surprising that we haven't seen him there more often.

All 28 of the 24-year-old's international caps have come on the wing, including this season's three Six Nations games, but with plenty of action set to come over the coming months, Farrell may well be tempted to look at a few different options.

Stockdale showed glimpses of his threat with ball in hand during Sunday's defeat to Connacht, and the way he hit the line from deep to score his try certainly caught the eye.

He made 70 metres for 11 carries, while he also conjured up one clean break and beat three defenders.

Considering how off-colour Ulster were, those stats are not a bad return for a player who looks as though he used the lockdown well.

Ulster are certainly keen to utilise Stockdale's attacking threat more often and Dwayne Peel explained why he believes full-back is a perfect fit.

"I think one thing about Jacob, obviously on the wing, he is an out-and-out finisher," Ulster's attack coach said.

"That's a massive strength of his, but I would say he has got a lot of football ability in him.

"In terms of a rugby player, he's not just a pure athlete. I think he has got a lot of rugby in him.

"You saw at the weekend, some of his kicking ability at full-back. He has got a big boot on him and he can distribute as well.

"He is obviously a talented player, so we want him on the ball as much as we can.

"We just feel at present, with a few injuries etc, full-back really suits him. I think it's something he is really keen to explore as well.

"I like him at full-back. Equally on the wing but he's a good asset at full-back because of his size and his running ability, but also his kicking game.

"He has got a good left foot and that can definitely come into play for us."

Farrell may see things differently, yet with James Lowe about to become eligible for Ireland, the head coach knows that he has two quality left wingers at his disposal.

With Addison set for another spell out, Stockdale has a great chance to stake his full-back claim for the crucial knockout games ahead.

How he fares over the coming weeks could go a long way to deciding his best position for the future.


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