Bulls like facing a national side – ‘really fit’ Jacob Stockdale set for first South African clash

Jacob Stockdale is looking forward to playing against South African opposition for the first time for Ulster. Photo: Sportsfile

Jonathan Bradley

Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale is relishing the visit of the Bulls to Ravenhill this weekend, with the winger set to face South African opposition for the first time.

While the four franchises arrived amid a URC rebrand last season, the 26-year-old had a serious ankle issue for virtually their entire first campaign in the competition before missing the games against the Lions and the Sharks this year due to injury and international involvement, respectively.

Having never faced the Cheetahs or Southern Kings during their time in the league either, Saturday night will be a first for Stockdale.

“I still haven’t played a South African team in the competition,” said the winger, who was part of the Ireland Grand Slam squad without ever cracking the match-day 23. “I’ve missed all the games so far between injury and not being available. I am hoping to try and finally tick that box against the Bulls.”

At this time of year, every point counts, too, with Ulster trying to chase down the Bulls’ compatriots, the Stormers, for second place in the league standings. The Bulls are desperate for points themselves with a poor run of form having shaken their once-firm grasp on a play-off place.

​Stockdale is expecting quite the tussle. “I would imagine it will be very much like playing an international team,” he said. “They are going to be very physical, and they have very dangerous back-three players and centres. With all four South African teams, if you give them space and time on the ball, they are going to punish you.”

An on-form Stockdale would be a huge boost to Ulster’s cause, and he is buoyed by a try-scoring showing against Cardiff last time out.

“It had been nearly two years since I last scored a competitive try for Ulster, so it was good to get that off my back,” he said. “I felt like it was coming and coming, but I never quite got it. So that was a great feeling. It was a pretty nice way to score it as well. I finally feel like I’m now really fit and getting the performances.”

And while he is itching to get back to it after two weeks spent training but not playing with Ireland, he admits the national side is tougher to crack than ever.

Still working his way back to full fitness and form after so long spent on the sidelines, Stockdale appreciated the show of faith from Farrell to keep him involved.

“The lads have been flying. I suppose it’s not necessarily a bad thing that you can’t get into the No 1 team in the world.” he added.