There has been no let up in Jacob Stockdale’s stunning try-scoring rate with Ulster this season. He has racked up seven tries in as many games so far, moving to the top of the Heineken Champions Cup charts with his crucial brace against Racing 92 last Saturday.
Speaking after the breathless battle with the French giants, two-try hero Jacob Stockdale, who celebrated his 50th Ulster appearance in fine style with the 26-22 win, reflected on the monumental effort required to see Ulster over the line.
“It was tough. Racing are a high quality side. They pushed us right to the end and they made it tough for us to come away with the win,” admitted the 22-year-old winger. “But I’m proud with how we went as a team and how we nullified how they attacked for a good bit of the game. Obviously, we let them in for a couple of scores, but it was pretty good overall.”
Stockdale’s second try, a memorable solo effort reminiscent of his famous try for Ireland against the All Blacks in November, saw him shrug off a tackle on the wing before collecting his own chip, which evaded a couple of covering defenders, and gleefully diving over.
“It was a nice try to score, certainly. In the end, it made a bit of a difference. Sometimes the ball sits up for you and sometimes it doesn’t,” he quipped, with a nod to the one which got away in the first half when Will Addison’s brilliant kick towards the left corner failed to bounce Stockdale’s way.
In typically humble fashion, the tournament’s top try scorer (with six scores in five rounds) deflected praise onto his 21-year-old team-mate, European debutant Robert Baloucoune. The Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy winger announced his arrival on the European stage with a superb seventh minute try, demonstrating his pace with a neat finish off well-timed passes from Billy Burns and Louis Ludik.
“Rob’s an incredible athlete. He’s been pushing us all in training and performing really well. For him to get an opportunity like that is massive, and he took his chance. For him to score that try, a real finisher’s try, was great. His all-round game was really good and it’s encouraging to have another guy in there doing really well.”
Stockdale also gives credit to head coach Dan McFarland for giving young members of the squad the opportunity in big games to show what they’re capable of, adding: “That’s a trademark of Dan, he does give the younger guys opportunities. As a younger player, that’s exactly what you want.
“You want to be able to say, ‘if I train well, and play well, I’ll get these chances’. Dan gives that. It’s fantastic for Rob because he’s trained well, and he’s played well. That’s what you want from the young guys and it’s what you want from the coach. It’s working really well.”
Indeed, McFarland’s faith in the young squad members has been repaid – some superb individual performances and a gutsy defensive effort allowed Ulster to hold on for a stunning win over previously-unbeaten Racing. With just one more round of games to go, Ulster’s 18 points in Pool 4 puts them in a strong position to potentially qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time since 2014.
Stockdale noted: “I haven’t played knockout rugby yet. That’s obviously something I really want to tick off. It’s a massive aspiration for me. There are not many guys in our squad now who have had that opportunity. For us now, it’s about doing what we’ve been doing all season and playing as well as we can.
“We can take bits away from guys like Besty (Rory Best) who have played in those matches but it’s just about doing things right. We can’t look past Leicester next weekend and we need to beat them to make sure we get that opportunity. Our sights are firmly fixed on them.”