Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale confirmed his status as one of Irish rugby’s hottest prospects on Saturday when he rounded off an accomplished performance against South Africa with an 80th minute try.
Jacob Stockdale was rewarded for his excellent at provincial level this season – he has notched five tries in just seven appearances for Ulster – with a place in the Irish back-three, alongside Rob Kearney and Andrew Conway, for the GUINNESS Series opener.
The Lisburn-born winger played a significant part in Ireland’s record defeat of the Springboks, and although he was admittedly surprised at the 35-point winning margin, he believes their hard work over the past fortnight ultimately paid dividends.
“We did everything that we could to go and win this game, and really make sure that we played as best as we could,” said Stockdale afterwards. “Over the last two weeks we’ve really worked hard, making sure that we knew our detail for us in attack, and we knew everything they would do in defence.”
Following on from appearances against the USA and Japan during the summer tour, the 21-year-old Stockdale was earning his third cap in an Ireland jersey. Conway’s international career is also in its infancy, but with 10 years of Test experience under his belt, Stockdale saw Leinster full-back Kearney as the perfect player to have alongside him in the back-line.
“Rob is a brilliant player, and he’s obviously been involved in 70-odd matches for Ireland. He has really good experience, and it’s really helpful to have an old head behind me that knows exactly what he’s doing, and what I should be doing. He’s been really great.”
In addition to playing a starring role for the Ireland Under-20s in their march to last year’s World Rugby U-20 Championship final in Manchester, Stockdale has also featured in the Champions Cup with his native province.
The Ballynahinch clubman does not see the senior international stage as a major step up in physicality, and instead views it as more of a mental test.
“I don’t think it was a massive step up physically, because I’ve been used to playing Champions Cup rugby, and high level rugby before. But I think the big thing was just in terms of (staying sharp) mentally. You couldn’t switch off during the game.
“You always had to be switched on, to make sure you didn’t offer them a kick to play into the corner, or a line-break. That kind of thing. That was the big difference.”
Before Ireland managed to put the result beyond doubt, the Springboks had kept themselves in contention with an improved third quarter performance. Stockdale was pleased that the team dug deep in defence prior to registering three converted scores in the closing stages, however, and he was understandably elated to also claim his second try for his country.
“South Africa are a top nation for a reason, and they really fought back. I think we showed real good character as a team, and it shows where we’re at as a team, that we were able to stop that turnaround and score points ourselves.
“It was a really great feeling, when you’re starting to pull away against them, and to get a try myself at the end was something really special,” he added.