Jacob Stockdale: 'Joe talks about being excellent in every small thing you do. That doesn’t happen by accident’

Jacob Stockdale: 'Joe talks about being excellent in every small thing you do. That doesn’t happen by accident’
Jacob Stockdale.

Boring? Ireland?

The players rolled out to speak for Joe Schmidt’s side yesterday didn’t have much to say on John Mitchell’s muddied blend of barb and compliment, but you could argue that the mere sight of Joey Carbery and Jacob Stockdale in front of the microphones was an eloquent enough response in itself.

Carbery’s gifts with ball in hand need little in the way of description here, while Stockdale is the pre-eminent try scorer in European rugby this last 18 months or so.

His 12 tries in his first 14 Test appearances would suggest that it isn’t all work and no play for the Six Nations champions.

There are few more thrilling sights in the game right now than that of Stockdale taking possession with an inch of space down the wing, but what happens next is a vista that unfolds on the back of countless hours, boring or otherwise, spent on the training field and in front of a laptop screen.

“Joe talks about being excellent in every small thing that you do,” the Ulster wing explained. “That doesn’t happen by accident.

“We train really well and we try to keep that accuracy in training, so that when it comes into the game, we hold onto the ball.

“Eventually, if you hold onto the ball, teams are going to make mistakes in defence. That’s where the opportunities come from.

That is part of the game plan, to be really accurate in everything we do and build pressure off the back of it.

The figures speak for themselves.

Ireland crossed the whitewash 22 times in four games last November and recorded 20 in their five Six Nations games in 2018.

Eight of the latter came courtesy of Stockdale, who knows all too well that such scoring feats are unlikely to be repeated.

“I’m not expecting to score eight tries this year,” he laughed. “For me, it is just about training the best that I can so that I can play the best I can. Whenever you are performing well, the tries come off the back of that. That is my main focus.”

Everything else seems incidental to this guy right now. The only aspect of his rugby life with which he appears to be struggling with is the extra glare his exploits have earned him on the street. Paparazzi outside the team hotel and selfie requests are now the norm.

He’s box office now.

Stockdale’s strike rate speaks for itself — his numbers with Ulster stand at 26 in 51 games — but it is a statistic that reverberates even louder when you consider that, by his own reckoning, he may carry the ball no more than eight times per game for Ireland.

That in itself is a work-on for the 22-year-old this term.

“You’ve to find that balance where you want wingers on their wings and in the space where they can be most dangerous, but I feel I can evolve my game a bit more. I think I can go after the ball a bit more and get more involvement in the game.”

Schmidt has always been big on that role with his wingers. His fly boys have always been expected to remain grounded, wedded to the ethos of eking out the hard yards with a clearout here or a tackle there. And this was long before Eddie Jones mentioned making a flanker out of Jack Nowell.

Stockdale has the physical attributes to prosper with his head in a ruck, but he has used his combination of size, speed and skill out wide to such devastating effect for Ulster and Ireland that you would have to hope he could be simply left well enough alone.

There were those who questioned his all-round attacking game when he first began to pepper the scoresheet — and his defence has still to convert some sceptics — but he has proven himself to be a creator of tries as well as just a finisher.

His chip-and-chase has now translated into something of a trademark move, and the regularity with which he has been able to latch onto an oval ball which can be notoriously unpredictable when dropping from a height has been remarkable.

Luck plays its part, but such fortune is earned.

“That’s a skill and that’s why we’re here to practice them over and over again. It’s not just to score tries, it’s to exert pressure. If you kick it in behind and the full-back does counter and you can get a tackle in, then all of a sudden the opposition is trying to kick out from five metres off their line.

That’s the kind of pressure that you want to apply as a winger.

“You practice that in here massively, Richie Murphy and Joe are huge on that and, after the kick, following it up with a good tackle and not letting them out of there is something that all wingers would practice.”

If that all equates to boredom on Saturday, then who needs excitement?


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