Jacob Stockdale: All Blacks ‘just a team’

Like many mad-keen young rugby players, Jacob Stockdale grew up playing Jonah Lomu Rugby on his games console and idolising the All Blacks.

Yet, in advance of a first game playing against the back-to-back world champions, the Ireland wing is determined to think of them as just another team.

With a Grand Slam and a series win in Australia on his CV since his Ireland debut on the 2017 tour to the USA and Japan, not to mention the 2018 Six Nations Player of the Championship award, the 22-year-old is eagerly preparing to face New Zealand in the hope he can add another major achievement to the resumé.

If Stockdale is to achieve this, though, he cannot afford to put Saturday’s illustrious opponents on a pedestal.

“You grew up playing Jonah Lomu Rugby, the games and stuff,” he said.

“There’s a whole reel of players, Dan Carter was probably the biggest player in the world when I was growing up. They’ve got these guys who are legends of the game, so they’re obviously a bit different to any other team you play, but at the same time, we’re number two in the world at the moment and we can’t just be looking at them like they’re a group of legends.

“They’re just a rugby team and that’s the mentality you have to go into it with, I think.”

That mentality represents a major shift in mindset for Ireland that Stockdale does not dispute.

“Where we’ve come in Irish rugby, we have changed, the team has changed to the point where we’re one of the biggest teams in the world. We’re right up there mixing it with the very best and I think that’s not only testament to Joe [Schmidt] but to the coaching staff around him and the squad.

“We’ve built really well over the last couple of years, so I think there is a different mentality. It’s not a ‘we’d be lucky to beat these guys,’ it’s ‘we are just as good as these lads and we compete with them at the very highest level.’ That’s been shown over the last couple of times we’ve met them.

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