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05th Aug 2023

Jacob Stockdale outshines Keith Earls but Andy Farrell giving nothing away

Patrick McCarry

Jacob Stockdale

The Ulster winger turned back the clock with some of his attacking play.

There were a few double-takes, at half-time in Ireland’s 33-17 win over Italy, when the statistics for Jacob Stockdale were updated. 151 metres made off 13 carries, and still with 40 minutes on the clock.

Heading into tonight’s match, at Aviva Stadium, Stockdale had not played a Test match in over two years. He had been included in some of Andy Farrell’s squads but without getting any Test minutes. When the wider World Cup training squad was named, not many outside of Ulster would have grumbled had the 27-year-old missed out.

Farrell and other coaches in the Ireland set-up are fans of Stockdale the player and Stockdale the man, though. From a tactical perspective, too, here is a guy that is solid in the air and has a mighty boot. James Lowe is the clear left wing frontrunner but Stockdale is being kept in the squad because he can do a lot of what the Irish management like.

We are into week five of Ireland’s preparations and the sense is that Andy Farrell will be sticking out his most loaded XV against England, on August 19. That feeling seemed validated when Farrell named an Ireland side to face Italy with fringe players and relative squad newcomers.

The head coach will have told many of these players that this was their big chance – and possibly their only one – to impress before the World Cup squad is picked. Two of the more experienced lads, Stockdale and Keith Earls, approached the game with that mentality, and it showed.

Jacob StockdaleJacob Stockdale looks on as Craig Casey of Ireland is tackled by Monty Ioane of Italy, at the Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Andy Farrell on Jacob Stockdale

After 10 minutes of the game, Jacob Stockdale already had six carries. The man that once looked a dead-cert to smash the Irish try-scoring record was back showing that 2017 and 2018 form and he was a magnet for the ball.

He tackled well, forcing an early turnover, and was showing up all across the pitch. At one moment, when he tried to side-step a tackle, he was caught by the Italy scrumhalf but just shrugged him aside.

He was making a stack of metres, and beating defenders, on most carries and he got the crowd out of their seats with one aerial take and pass that almost led to a Jimmy O’Brien try. There was one poor Stockdale moment – and something Andy Farrell alluded to after the match – when he barely even attempted to tackle Lorenzo Pani for Italy’s first try.

Told, after the match, of Stockdale racking up 169 metres made on his first half carries, Farrell was not exactly doling out the praise:

“A lot of good, and some bits he’d hope to tidy up… it would have been a big day for Jacob and he’ll be the better for it.”

Many suspect that one of the final spots in Ireland’s World Cup squad will be fought out between Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls. After tonight’s showing – although both men missed tackles before Italy tries – it is advantage Stockdale.

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