Tuesday 21 May 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Stockdale's costly error will make him, not break him'

'Stockdale must now quickly turn the page and even though that will be easier said than done, he should remember that rugby is just a game and better times lie ahead.' Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
'Stockdale must now quickly turn the page and even though that will be easier said than done, he should remember that rugby is just a game and better times lie ahead.' Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Jacob Stockdale stood alone in desperate despair as if his whole world had come crashing down around him.

Just over four months ago on the same stage he basked in the finest hour of a burgeoning career that despite already having provided so many thrills, is really only just getting started.

The Leinster players could barely summon the energy to celebrate an epic interpro win for the ages because, ultimately, they knew they had been fortunate.

Nine times out of 10, Stockdale would have dived over the whitewash, but, for whatever reason, this time he lost control of both the ball and his senses.

Dave Kearney was the first man in blue who walked over to commiserate with his crestfallen opposite number - a classy touch from the man who contributed to turning Stockdale's afternoon into a nightmare with a superb piece of last-ditch defending.

Chase

There are two key lessons to be taken from the 45th-minute incident: Attackers, always dot the ball down whenever you get the chance to do so; defenders, never give up on the chase.

At 22 years old, most of us were still trying to find our way in life. Plenty of mistakes were made along the way and far away from the public spotlight; lessons were learned with minimal fuss.

Stockdale has already achieved more than most professionals dream of managing in their careers.

This was a major faux pas, make no mistake about it, but it will not break him. Instead it will be the making of a sensational talent, who has everything in his favour to go on and become this country's highest ever try scorer.

Back in November, Stockdale had a kick blocked down by Kieran Read, who uncharacteristically then spilled the ball. Had the All Blacks captain managed to gather it, he would have scored, but like Stockdale on Saturday, that was a freakish one-off error.

Minutes later, the winger recomposed himself and scored that unforgettable try.

In a cruel twist of fate, the same corner of the Aviva Stadium would bring utter anguish this time.

"There were mistakes by everybody," Ulster head coach Dan McFarland reasoned.

"His mistake today stands out a little bit, but as I say it's not the reason we lost the game.

"Put it like this. If you were to ask: 'Jacob with a mistake, would you still play him? Or would you pick someone else who might not?'

"No, of course you'd play him. We're not even close if he's not playing.

"He's a magnificent player, and yes, he's young, very young. He'll only get better."

The manner in which Stockdale reacted to the error was indicative of a player with a steely mental toughness that left little doubt that he will bounce back.

He continued to dominate the air with a brilliant take, never retreating into his shell.

Speaking of young players making mistakes, Garry Ringrose could certainly empathise with his international team-mate as his early charge-down cost Leinster seven points and when he repeated the error early in the second-half, Ulster very nearly made him pay again.

"I feel for him," Ringrose admitted.

"I'm sure he thought the try was scored in his head and it was just a real unlucky moment for him.

"Obviously when you are on the other side it's a get out of jail free card, but you hate to see something like that with how he played.

"He can hold his head up high with the impact he had. It was just an unlucky moment.

"I don't know if it's similar to a block-down, but you just have to get on with it. These things happen."

And that is the point in all of this: these things do happen and will always happen.

On the back of it, coaches up and down the country will undoubtedly be telling their young players about the importance of scoring a try in any manner possible.

Yes, this example will be highlighted, but will that stop kids wanting to become the next Jacob Stockdale? Definitely not.

Ulster would not have reached the quarter-final were it not for Stockdale's six tries in the pool stages, which is something that his team-mates are acutely aware of.

"He's done a lot for us, we wouldn't be here without him," Luke Marshall acknowledged.

"We win as a team, we lose as a team. There's no individual to blame, definitely not."

Stockdale must now quickly turn the page and even though that will be easier said than done, he should remember that rugby is just a game and better times lie ahead.

Irish Independent

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