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27th Aug 2019

‘Jacob Stockdale has been made the fall guy and it’s not fair’

Patrick McCarry


The wingers so often get the glory, but they also cop a heap of the blame when things go south.

Ireland shipped the most amount of tries, on Saturday last, since New Zealand put them to the sword in Hamilton, back in 2012. Few Irish players stood up to be counted and just about everything that could go wrong went horrendously wrong.

Joe Schmidt’s men missed 34 tackles, were turned over 19 times, conceded eight tries, had their scrum neutered and their lineout ravaged all in the course of a record Test loss to the English.

Ireland’s chastening defeat led to widespread criticism but there has been an acute focus on the travails of three players since then – Rory Best, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale.

On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew’s House of Rugby [from 14:00], former Ireland winger Andrew Trimble spoke up strongly in defence of Stockdale, who he feels copped an unfair amount of the blame.

Stockdale missed three of his four tackle attempts and, unfortunately for him, two of the three misses led to a try. After setting up Ireland’s opening try, for Jordan Larmour, the Ulster winger found himself defending for long stretches and was often left covering acres of space out wide.

“I have an issue with wingers getting the blame for everything, in general,” said Trimble. “I think Jacob has got a massively hard time here.

“Myself and Keith Earls would have talked about this before. The wingers are often the ones that score the tries and get the credit, which is great. But when things go badly, you’re the fall guy and I think Jacob is the fall guy this time. I think that’s badly unfair.”

12 minutes in, with Ireland leading 7-3, England had an attacking scrum on the left. During the show, Trimble, Barry Murphy and Jerry Flannery had a closer look at the scrum defence and system errors that cost Ireland so dearly. Flannery agreed that most of Ireland’s defensive errors came on the inside.

TRIMBLE: For that Joe Cokanasiga try, Conor Murray sweeps back down the short side and the scrum wheels, so England get their loosehead up, ever so slightly. So Murray sweeps back because he thinks Billy Vunipola is a threat and he’s going to pick it and go. I actually think Murray is correct to do that. Well, not correct but you can understand why he did it because there is such a threat [from Vunipola] and Larmour was starting to cheat a bit. He was starting to chase Kearney. And Peter O’Mahony is scrummaging long so he’s got his head buried in there. They’re going to get hammered in that scrum unless they have their full back row scrummaging the whole time… I think Larmour could reassure Murray, or there could be a bit more communication between those two, because if Larmour sits longer, Murray can get around on the open side. Vunipola picks and gets Vunipola scooting at Ross Byrne, and then we’ve got Owen Farrell coming short. Byrne and Bundee Aki, for me, have done nothing wrong. They can’t get off. Ross has to stay on Ben Youngs and the Irish back row is gone.

Murphy believes Garry Ringrose, at outside centre, would have had to have made ‘a crazy read’ to shoot out of the line and bolt for England outhalf George Ford.

“Jacob is sitting further back,” saysTrimble, “so by the time Ringrose doesn’t go and Jacob has to go on Jonny May, he’s got even further to go to make that read so, for me, Jacob is pretty blameless.”

Credit: England Rugby (via YouTube)

To Flannery, Ireland would have coped better in this situation by getting Larmour not to hold his right wing position longer and for O’Mahony to detach should Vunipola, in fact, bomb down the blindside. That would have freed up Murray, instead of Byrne, to go after Youngs.

Stockdale was caught short on his wing again, on 29 minutes, when Ireland – with Conor Murray receiving treatment – were down to 14 men. Again, he felt the best option was to shoot out and try to force an English error but their handling was slick and Elliott Daly got over.

He was caught out by Manu Tuilagi for England’s third try, and the score that put Ireland in a deep hole. Again, it was a first phase strike off an attacking English scrum.

Murphy feels Bundee Aki may erred for the Tuilagi try and Cokanasiga’s second, when he shot out of the line and forced Ringrose to follow him.

For the Tuilagi [circled red] score, Aki took up the position that Byrne might have been expecting to cover. This was just in case Vunipola picked from the base and went for the tryline. Vunipola did not go but Aki [circled yellow] got wedged in between Josh van der Flier and referee Nigel Owens. It meant he was too late getting out to Youngs, compromising Byrne and drawing him in.

That left Stockdale with a two-on-one to defend. He rushed out to block off any Tuilagi pass but was then caught flat when the Leicester centre powered for the line and scored.

“It’s just that Billy Vunipola is that good,” said Flannery. “He’s the best No.8 in the world and teams just end up having to tighten up around him, which then opens up space.”

Stockdale himself will be disappointed with Cokanasiga’s second, as he was sold too easily with a dummy pass from the Bath winger. However, the winger was sprinting over to try and save Ireland’s skin after some more dodgy defence from the backline.

Trimble noted how Aki ‘thought that they were going to go hard but then Andrew Conway wasn’t on the same page’. Conway, on for Rob Kearney at this stage, had turned his hips in anticipation of having to cover out wide but Farrell and Tuilagi (below) had tied up Aki and Ringrose and opened a gap for Cokanasiga.

Stockdale (red arrowed line) hared over to get to the England winger but was sold by his dummy to Will Heinz and that was that. Ireland had conceded their seventh try.

Looking back on the four tries that Stockdale’s defence was questioned, a portion of the blame could be pinned on him for Tuilagi’s score and Cokanasiga’s second. But only a portion as there is plenty to go around.

The real worry was a lot of experienced internationals having communication breakdowns and wilting in the ferocious speed and heat served up by an impressive English outfit.



The latest episodes sees Barry Murphy, Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery look back on Ireland’s chastening loss to England and discuss a Munster Royal Rumble.