It does not matter how secure Jacob Stockdale’s place in the Ireland first XV appeared, doubts about his status in the World Cup pecking order still lingered right up until the email from Joe Schmidt dropped into his inbox on Sunday night.
Two tries in the previous day’s Test win against Wales in Cardiff, his first at international level in four matches dating back to February 24 in Rome, did Stockdale’s cause no harm at all, and proved the perfect riposte to criticism he received over his defensive display in the eight-try rout by England seven days earlier at Twickenham.
“We got an email on Sunday night. It was a letter from Joe basically saying congrats on the selection and there was a package of what we were doing moving forward, different information on Japan and so on,” the Ulster wing said.
“I was just chilling out watching Netflix. He sent the email fairly late and I went in refreshing a couple of times. It popped in and it was just nice to know for sure that you’re going to go.
“I was fairly confident I was going to be picked but there’s still that kind of dread the day of the selection, that you maybe haven’t done enough or you’ve done something to put yourself out of the squad. It was a nice relief to get the email, I’m really excited about the next few weeks.” Stockdale, 23, admitted to being stung by the criticism of the previous week, which served to motivate him in Cardiff.
“To be honest, it was a really important game for me, probably just to shut a few people up more than anything. It was really important for me to get out there and put in a good performance, get Twickenham out of the system a wee bit.
“I didn’t ask Joe to play or anything but I was really grateful he gave me the opportunity for a second week in a row and gave me the chance to go out and actually put a few wrongs right.
“I’d say a lot of the criticism quite annoyed me because I felt a lot of it was quite unfair but, at the same time, it probably gave me a lot of good motivation.
“Reading a few tweets gets you a bit rattled up and prepared for the next week. A lot of them say you shouldn’t read stuff but I do. I read the good stuff and the bad stuff because the good stuff is nice to see people saying nice things about you and the bad stuff gives me a lot of motivation to prove people wrong. It was really important for me.
“I suppose to a certain extent I was surprised by maybe how much (criticism) I got because there were a few things I felt weren’t my fault. But, at the same time, it was one of my poorer performances in an Ireland shirt and in sport you’re going to get people who aren’t happy with how you played and that’s fair enough. Like I said, it gave me good motivation for last week to put in a good performance.” Stockdale also admitted some of the flak he copped online had focused on his longer hairstyle, which was cropped post-Twickenham.
“I got a few very abusive messages,” he said with a laugh, “mainly about the hair actually. That wasn’t the reason I got it cut. I felt like a change, it actually had nothing to do with the rugby and what people were saying. I just kind of decided to.”
Whatever the reason, something clicked for Stockdale in Cardiff, the wing finishing an excellent team try off an equally adept break and final pass from fellow wing Andrew Conway for his first score and then a solo effort from a trademark intercept and kick.
It was not exactly a drought that preceded those tries in his 21st Test. The scores took him to joint 10th in the all-time Ireland try-scoring charts, level with Ronan O’Gara on 16, albeit a total reached in 107 fewer Tests “In fairness as a winger you want to be scoring tries and I hadn’t scored I think since the Italy game in the Six Nations. It was important for me personally to get back on the scoresheet. I have to give Andrew Conway a fair bit of credit for that one, I think that was pretty much his, fortunately I was there to finish it off. It was just nice to get over the whitewash again and get back on track.” Of the turnover, from a loose Aaron Shingler offload, he added: “It’s always I see as something of a strength of mine, getting over ball, especially in the wide areas where the lads who are trying to clear you out are a bit smaller. I wouldn’t back myself in the middle of the pitch. It was just nice for my first involvement of the game to get a turnover. I was pretty happy with the defensive side of my game. Obviously I’ve still got a lot of work-ons, I always will, but I was pretty happy with how it went.” So now a World Cup debut awaits.