“He’s got 180, 190 Ulster caps at the age of twenty… jeez, he might be annoyed at me but I’m gonna say 28, 29.”
Jacob Stockdale sits down for his press briefing just an hour after he was named fullback in Test rugby for just the second time in his career. He is in good form, and much of it must be related to his first outing in the role against Italy, last weekend.
The Ulster star shifted from left wing to the No.15 jersey when the 2020 Guinness Six Nations resumed. While he was not perfect in defence, Stockdale brought a real attacking intent to his new role on the Test stage and looked like a player regaining his confidence.
Stockdale was referring to his Ulster and Ireland teammate Rob Herring as the 28 or 29-year-old. Informed that Herring is now 30, he raises his eyebrows and remarks, “I was nicer than I thought!”
The following are the best bits from Stockdale’s press briefing before he sets off to France with his championship-chasing team:
Are you going to Paris in a good frame of mind?
Yeah, definitely. I think so. It was obviously good to get that return to the Six Nations, and a good way to start it. We also are very aware of the fact that France away is a very different beast to Italy at home, and we’re going to have to go there and give them the respect they deserve, in that sense. But being able to score a few good tries and play some attacking rugby definitely goes a long way to building confidence for this week.
Is that Paris fear factor of old there for this Ireland team?
I don’t know whether fear factor is the correct term. We definitely respect them and we respect the ability in which they can play. But, at the same time, we’ve had a number of good performances against France over the last few years, and we’ve got a good bit of return out of them. So we are quite confident when it comes to playing them, as a team, but they are in good form, at the moment. They obviously beat Wales well, there at the weekend, and they are a different team to what they’ve been in the past.
Do Ireland have more in the locker for this weekend?
Definitely. We were happy with the way the Italy game went but, as a team and our ability to attack, we can definitely go to another level, and we probably will have to, this weekend. Realistically, you want to be able to keep the Six Nations and the game in our control, and that means looking at a bonus point (win) away to France. We were happy with the way we went, but there is definitely more we can work on and another step to take.
What did you make of Hugo Keenan’s performance?
Yeah, I feel like he was maybe stealing a few of my tries in the 11 jersey, like! Nah, but, Hugo’s work-rate is phenomenal.
He showed that in the game for the disallowed try. If you play-cammed him, he chases a kick 100% sprint, chases back whenever they kick and then runs back whenever the line-break is made. He’s on and he turns back to sprint again. People would look at that and say, ‘Oh, he’s in the right place at the right time’, but if you look at the work he has done, leading up to that point, it’s really, really impressive. But, he’s not just a hard worker. He’s a really strong finisher, and he showed that with his first try and then again (he showed) his work-rate and finishing with the third try. Training with him has been really good. He’s a really hard worker, on and off the pitch. I’ve been really impressed with how he’s committed to the team and committed to training.
What did you make of first fullback outing for Ireland?
I really, really enjoyed it, so I did. I felt I was able to put my mark on the game, which I was pretty pleased with. But it was my first game in that position and there’s going to be things to tidy up. Like, my back-field positioning could have been a bit better and I could have made the right decision when I was kicking a few times. But, outside of that, I was pretty pleased with it. There’s a few things that maybe I noticed that the general public might not have noticed, but I want to work on. But, overall, pretty happy with it.
Was Italy’s final try one of those things you’ll be working on?
Looking back I was a bit frustrated. In those positions it’s tricky. I can see a two on one coming at me and I’m trying to make a play. But in hindsight, it’s an experience thing where I haven’t been in that position many ties. It’s probably better to try and rush Garbisi and make him make the pass – put him under pressure to pass and (bet that) he’s not going to be able to put the player away.
Do you think France will be looking to test you at fullback?
Obviously, looking at the way that they play, they’ve got a very good kicking game. They’ve scored a number of tries off those contestables kicks and it’s (about) cleaning up the scraps because they make a bit of a mess of it at the back. It’s going to be a big challenge for me, going into this week, in dealing with those kicks in the air and their kicking game, and trying to keep it as tidy as possible at the back. Because those are the opportunities they live off. Outside of that, I don’t think they pose a massive threat just for me, personally, but for us as a team. We’re going to have to make sure we are switched on the entire time we are on the pitch, because they are masters at creating something out of nothing and scoring tries off the back of plays where you think you, pretty much, have them shut down. Then they score a try off the back of a great offload when they are 80 or 90 metres down the pitch.Jacob Stockdale pictured during Ireland’s win over France in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)
What are your memories of the 2018 win, and Johnny’s drop goal, in Paris?
That was the only game I was ever subbed off in. Maybe Joe (Schmidt) knew something I didn’t! It was a massive sense of relief. That was my first Six Nations game and I didn’t want it to end with a loss to France. Fortunately, those 42 phases will go down in Irish rugby history. I didn’t get a chance to be involved in them, but it was great to be there to witness it.
After that 2018 success with the Grand Slam, you’d surely love to win another title…
To be honest, one thing I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t really have any connection to 2018, if that makes any sense? You know, every time you step onto the pitch, you want to win the game. It doesn’t matter if it’s a league game in the middle of the season for Ulster or a grand final week in the Six Nations – every time you step onto the pitch, you want to win. Yeah, obviously I want to add as many trophies and silverware to my cabinet as I possibly can, so I’m definitely going out there with the expectation that I want to put in a performance that will ultimately get us a bit of silverware.
Hugo’s disallowed try typifies your strength at fullback. Aren’t those the running lines you can bring to attacks?
That’s something that I was really excited by at playing fullback. Getting a bit more opportunity to run the ball back and in an ideal world create a bit of havoc for the defence on the other side of the ball. I was pleased how that went. Can still take it to another level. I was frustrated with the call, thought it was harsh. I don’t think your man would have been anywhere near me even if he hadn’t run into James Ryan.
Going into the Six Nations, playing fullback was something I was excited by. I was glad I was able to show (good form) at the weekend, but there’s a lot to be worked on and an opportunity to keep growing in the jersey.
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts. You can catch up on all our episodes from past seasons and interviews with Conrad Smith, Victor Matfield, Simon Zebo, Sean O’Brien, Drew Mitchell, Jean De Villiers, Finn Russell, Mike Brown, Brian O’Driscoll, Tana Umaga and much, much more.