'Sky is the limit' for Stockdale and Ireland

'Sky is the limit' for Stockdale and Ireland
Ireland's Jacob Stockdale scores his side's third try at Twickenham Stadium. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA

By Brendan O’Brien

Today, Europe. Tomorrow, the world.

Jacob Stockdale is certainly thinking that way. Most players would beg off questions about what may come next in the hours after claiming a Six Nations Grand Slam title, but the Ulster winger is a man in a hurry.

“We’ve won a Grand Slam, that’s the first stepping stone to be being a really dominant team in world rugby,” said the 21-year old. “We’re sitting at number two in the (world) rankings. We’ll have a crack at New Zealand, we know we’ve a lot to work on.”

Ireland will get their next shot at the world champs come November.

“Joe (Schmidt) hasn’t come out and said New Zealand is the target, but our ambition is to be the best team in the world. We’re just going to keep working as hard as we can and see what happens.”

Stockdale isn’t the only one already salivating over a game that is still eight months off in the distance. Ireland are unquestionably the next best thing in the world game right now.

 Jacob Stockdale on his way to scoring Ireland's third try. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Jacob Stockdale on his way to scoring Ireland's third try. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Their demolition of England in Twickenham has proven that.

Stockdale’s blistering start to life as a Test player has played an enormous part in Ireland’s Triple Crown, Championship and Grand Slam success.

His try against England this afternoon takes his tally to eleven in just nine international caps.

Not just that but his first-half touchdown - a brilliant effort involving a chip over his marker and a successful chase after being impeded illegally by two scrambling English defenders - means he is the first player to score seven tries in a single Six Nations campaigns.

It’s staggering stuff. Ridiculous.

To be honest, there was a bit of space behind and a bit of a chip over. After that, it was a mixture between instinct and a bit of luck. I go into every game trying the best and luckily enough the tries came to me. It’s a nice record to have.

The only game that passed by without his name appearing on the scoresheet since his debut was Ireland’s opening Six Nations tie, against France in Paris.

That was also the only game he failed to finish, incidentally, as he made way with five minutes to go.

Brian O’Driscoll is Ireland’s record try scorer. The expectation was that, with 46, he would remain so for a long, long time, but Stockdale is rapidly closing the gap between the pair and forcing everyone to reassess.

O’Driscoll was earning his 23rd cap when he claimed his eleventh try – a damn impressive feat in its own right. Stockdale has matched that inside nine appearances. The only question right now seems to be how high the figure will be when he stops.

Flip, the sky is the limit, I guess.

There’s no notions here. Nothing about him suggests a guy who is about to fall in love with the man in the mirror.

His touchstones after the England game were modesty and manners and a youthful delight. Same as it ever was.

Stockdale spoke about the need to keep his head down and work hard on his game. His kicking, his ability in the air and, yes, his defence were all offered up as areas in need of improvement if he is to continue in anything like his current vein.

The Ireland team celebrate with the Six Nations and Triple Crown trophies. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
The Ireland team celebrate with the Six Nations and Triple Crown trophies. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Keith Earls, who has run the opposite touchline to him for the vast majority of his nascent international career, was thanked publicly for his help on the pitch and off. And the coaching staff were given due credit, too.

“Joe is a phenomenal coach. Him and Andy Farrell and Richie Murphy, they are instrumental in improving me as a player. Joe expects the best from every guy on the pitch. You push yourself to try and do that.”

Whatever the future holds, Stockdale will always have London and the 2018 Six Nations. When the game was done and the trophy lifted, he made his way to the corner of the pitch where his mum and girlfriend were and shared the moment.

His mum cried tears of joy and pride.

“It’s a bit embarrassing,” he laughed “(but) it’s brilliant to share moments with them.”

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