Ireland’s winners make the acquaintance of that losing feeling

Jacob Stockdale entered new territory with Ireland this week, on the wrong end of a Test result for the first time in his international career.

From a try-scoring debut last summer against the United States to the Ulster man’s 11th try in nine Tests against England at Twickenham which helped secure the Six Nations Grand Slam on St Patrick’s Day, the 22-year-old’s career in the green jersey had been a series of glittering successes.

Stockdale added the individual Six Nations try-scoring record for a single season with seven in five games and also walked off with the Player of the Championship award. 

Yet then came last Saturday’s series-opening defeat to Australia in Brisbane, a first loss in 11 Tests alongside 2016 Under-20 team-mates Andrew Porter and James Ryan, and the following day introduced an alternative narrative to post-match recovery.

“It’s fairly strange in terms of, for me, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, and guys like that hadn’t experienced it yet, we hadn’t experienced coming in the next morning after a loss,” Stockdale said.

“Of course it is different, you look at everything a little bit more critically whenever you lose than when you win. Yeah, it’s probably a feeling of frustration that we didn’t put in the performance we knew we were capable of. That’s the biggest thing.”

You did not need to be a young international whippersnapper to share Stockdale’s emotions. Last Saturday’s defeat at Suncorp Stadium also blemished the season-long winning streaks of more seasoned Leinster and Ireland stars Tadhg Furlong, Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, and Robbie Henshaw.

The last time tighthead prop Furlong experienced a loss was during the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand last summer, when the tourists were downed in the first Test in Auckland.

“I suppose in a strange and not trying to be arrogant way, you kind of forget what losing feels like,” Furlong, 25, said. “It’s gut-wrenching, horrible and it gives you a perspective to knuckle down and go again and go hard because it’s just not a nice feeling to have.”

Sexton, 32, was a replacement in both the Lions first Test and last Saturday with nothing but success in between but he took a different view to Furlong.

“Maybe I’ve lost more than Tadhg,” the fly-half said. “He’s still relatively young and won the majority of games he’s played. I’ve been through the years we didn’t win a lot so I know the other side and maybe I wouldn’t have taken it as much for granted as some of the others.”

The key for them all, Furlong believes, was to turn the page and concentrate on the next challenge: saving the series with a win in Melbourne this Saturday.

“You probably don’t dwell on it. You want to know why it’s happened and how you can fix it. I suppose in rugby we’re lucky where every weekend nearly is constant: you perform, the review happens and then you’re on to something else.

“There’s not much time for self-pity, especially on a three-game tour. There’s just no time to wallow. You have to recover, get your body right and get back on the horse.

“Then you have to take your learnings and from those learnings, seeing them in pictures on laptops, you have to put them back out on the field.”



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