Keith Earls' gesture to a young rival for his Ireland jersey was just class 6 years ago

Keith Earls' gesture to a young rival for his Ireland jersey was just class

The two men may up scrapping for the same Ireland jersey this season.

Rob Kearney described Ireland's August get-together as like nothing he had seen before. Two years out from the 2019 World Cup and Joe Schmidt had invited his senior stars to join up with the best and brightest of the next generation.


Normally, the younger lads would be coy enough going into training sessions but they had confidence in numbers and off the back of positive debut, and follow-up, appearances on the summer tour to the USA and Japan.

Along with Tyler Bleyendaal [Irish qualified in January] and Bundee Aki, Schmidt asked the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Rory O'Loughlin, Jack O'Donoghue, James Ryan and Andrew Porter. Stockdale recalls the two-day camp as a moment when he knew he had truly made it.

Not only was he running through plays with the likes of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls, who both toured with Ireland in June, but Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney were back in camp and there were Lions such as Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien there too. This was the real deal.

"This is serious," Stockdale admits to thinking. "This is the proper Ireland squad."


The Ulster back was happy to see Zebo and Earls again as both had proved so giving of their time and support during the summer tour. "I've watched these guys growing up but I'd never talked to them before and, all of a sudden, I'm going on tour with them," he says.

"It was a really great experience and the likes of Keith and Simon, because they were in the same position as me, were really brilliant in terms of me needing everything I needed to know. If I had any questions, they were more than helpful."

The 21-year-old scored a try on his Test debut, against USA, and was impeccable in attack and defence but two of his most memorable moments from that week were before and after the game.


He recalls Ronan O'Gara's advice before the final training session of the week - 'Jacob, you look like you're crapping yourself a bit... Don't worry. You know the stuff. You don't realise that you know it but you do.'

The second moment arrived after Ireland beat the USA 55-19. Stockdale says:

"Keith Earls was pretty brilliant in that respect. After the game, I was going to go swap my extra jersey with one of the USA players. As I was walking out of the changing rooms, Earlsy just said, 'Here Jacob, don't be swapping your first'.

"He gave me his other jersey, and let me swap it, and I was able to hang on to my two first cap jerseys, which was really, really dead on of him. I really appreciated it."


While Stockdale played on the left wing for his Test debut, Ulster will be featuring him across their back three this season. He has already scored in his two Guinness PRO14 outings this season and has his sights set on adding to his Ireland caps this November.

Earls will be targeting the November Series too and his four tries in three Tests, over the summer, may be enough to stave Stockdale off... for now.