‘You can only be where your feet are’ – in-form Jacob Stockdale taking trophy hunt one step at a time

WHEN HE LIMPED out of Ulster’s win over Munster just after the new year, Jacob Stockdale thought it would just be a short-term injury. At the very least, he’d be back for the Six Nations.

The initial prognosis was an ACL strain and a bit of bone bruising. A couple of weeks and it should all clear up and he’d be back on the pitch doing what he does best for Ireland.

But then the bruising didn’t clear up how he and the Ulster physios thought it would. Two weeks turned into four. Then six. By the time he made his return for Ulster against Ospreys on 26 February, it was eight weeks since he’d turned out for either province or country.

In the meantime, of course, he had missed the first two rounds of the Six Nations, and a return against Italy the following week was always going to be too soon for him given how long he’d been out.

Watching Hugo Keenan quickly make the full-back jersey Stockdale had dominated during the 2020 Six Nations his own would have hurt too. While a return to the wing would naturally be an option, it’s never easy seeing someone else excel while you yourself can’t do anything to stake your own claim.

“The injury came at a frustrating time for me, I ended up missing almost all of the Six Nations, so that was frustrating for me,” admits Stockdale with a grimace, before adding sagely, “but there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s part of the sport.”

And so, following his own advice, he swallowed his frustration and did everything right on his initial return for Ulster.

A sharp outing against Ospreys, followed by two more solid displays against Leinster and Dragons – which featured a sensational solo run to set up Alby Mathewson for a score – had him back in the national camp.

Like Italy, Scotland would come a little too soon, but the 24-year-old would be back on the wing for the final game against England in which he slotted back in seamlessly on the way to a victory that put a bit of gloss on the tournament as a whole.

“I feel like I’ve really come back into the squad fairly seamlessly,” adds Ireland’s seventh-highest try scorer.

“For me, it’s about getting that consistency and continuing to perform week in, week out rather than having two very good performances and one sub-par.”

Stockdale is naturally tough on himself. The Lisburn man made the decision to stop using social media so as to avoid those who would be quick to mock unfairly after a poor display, but that doesn’t stop him from expecting more from himself.

Case in point: the former Wallace High ace brings up the recent Challenge Cup win over Harlequins. Despite the one-sided scoreline seeing Ulster run out comfortable 57-21 winners at The Stoop, Stockdale admits he felt he was a long way off his peak.

“It’s funny, it’s one of those games where we won so well, I came out thinking I had a good game, then you look back on your individual performance and go actually, it probably wasn’t quite good enough,” he says with a slight laugh.

“My ball security wasn’t good enough and then I got bumped into touch twice – as a winger, that can’t happen, that’s a cheap turnover to give the opposition and lets the team down. That’s something I made sure I worked on going into Northampton.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

The intention, then, is to build off that performance against the Saints, which saw Stockdale look somewhere close to his best, capped off by picking a superb line off Billy Burns to secure the win with a late try and rubber-stamp Ulster’s place in the last-four.

While Connacht tonight in their Rainbow Cup opener at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm) is the immediate focus, thoughts will perhaps turn to potentially being a bolter for the Lions if he can impress in the next few months. At the very least, being involved with a potential Ireland summer tour is the aim.

But, rather than dwell on his own personal goals, Stockdale returns the discussion back to team matters, namely Ulster trying to end their 15-year trophy drought this season, either through the Challenge Cup or Rainbow Cup.

“Dan (McFarland) spoke about it in the meeting this morning, the next four weeks are massively important games, none of them more important than the other,” adds Stockdale.

“We’re just trying to do all we can each week. He used the phrase ‘you can only be where your feet are’, and that’s exactly the kind of mentality we’re taking into this.

“We’re focusing on Connacht this week, worrying about that game, and after that’s done we can focus on Leicester.”


(15-9) Jacob Stockdale; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, John Cooney; (1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole; Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (captain); Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.


(15-9) John Porch; Ben O’Donnell, Sean O’Brien, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; (1-8) Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury; Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (captain).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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