Jacob Stockdale achieves redemption against La Rochelle following lousy Leinster performance
It can be hard to tell whether the Kingspan Stadium is a fortress for Ulster or whether they are just abysmal outside of Belfast.
An outside shot heading into Saturday's 1pm kick-off against Pool leaders La Rochelle, Ulster were seeking redemption following a one-sided trouncing at the hands of Leinster at the RDS last weekend.
Les Kiss' side had been battered away to both Connacht and Leinster in back-to-back away games, yet, had somehow, in the middle of both losses, mustered up a come-back-from-the-dead win against Munster on New Year's Day at home.
Ireland winger Jacob Stockdale had been brutally exposed during the loss to Leinster, and to a lesser extent as a full-back in the Connacht defeat.
He missed key tackles on three of Leinster's tries which inevitably raised questions over his place in the Ireland backline for next month's Six Nations opener against France.
The 21-year-old is going to have some bad games from time to time, after all, he still is 21, and human.
He's going to make mistakes, but on Saturday he redeemed himself with a stellar performance on Ulster's left wing.
The Lisburn native still has to work on his defence, completing just 60% of his tackles, but the strength and determination that he showed on Ulster's second try of the afternoon underline why Ireland can ill-afford to lose someone of his ability.
In Keith Earls Ireland have experience and an all-round talent, in Andrew Conway they have speed and a player that can beat defenders, but in Stockdale, they have a 6'3 winger that can overpower defenders and power his way to the line.
Admittedly, it was a shocking defensive effort from Vincent Rattez in the tackle, but Stockdale still managed to shrug off the flat-footed winger before beating scrum-half Alexis Balès to the corner.
It was just reward for Stockdale who yielded a game-high 49 metres for the hosts off just 11 carries. The Ulster winger also beat nine defenders, three times more than any other player on the pitch.
But it wasn't just what he did with ball in hand that was impressive, it was what he did away from the pill that should be appreciated.
With Ulster conceding penalties at will down the stretch, Stockdale forced a massive turnover on Botia Veivuke after Darren Cave did well to bring him down.
Cave made a textbook tackle on a player affectionately know as 'The Demolition man', and for good reason, but Stockdale was over the top of the ball in a flash and got himself into a great position to win the turnover.
Substitute forwards Vincent Pelo and Gregory Lamboley came crashing into him but he stood strong to seal what looked like a pivotal turnover with less than 10 minutes to play.
However, it's never that simple for Ulster, as they went back and forth with La Rochelle in the final minutes, constantly teasing victory and foreboding defeat with each minute that passed.
But with their attack and shape falling apart around them, Stockdale did what all good wingers do, he came looking for work.
With Charles Piutau again asked to lead the way for Ulster at full-back, Stockdale provided him with some support by running alongside him offering an inside support line.
He didn't chew off any huge metres when he received the ball from Piutau, but he did help move Ulster in the right direction when they had been dragged into the middle of a dogfight.
Stockdale has yet to reproduce the kind of form that earned him rave reviews in November, but he is developing and making strides in less glamorous parts of the game.
At 6'3, 16 st 1 lb, he has the ability to overpower defenders and the speed to strike from anywhere.
— Gareth Hanna (@GarethHanna11) January 13, 2018
He is a great finisher too, but on Saturday he also showed that he had some dog in him, whether it was backing up Charles Piutau after he had been taken out in the air by Paul Jordaan, or whether it was by launching himself into a ruck with the game on the line, he's showing parts of his game that won't make highlight reels but will be appreciated greatly by coaches, and most importantly, his teammates.
His defence and one-on-one tackling still need some work but his talent is undeniable, it always has been, it just ultimately played a big part in Ulster getting over the line this weekend in what could be their biggest win of the season.