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'It's a touch frustrating' - Ireland's Jacob Stockdale eyes green dream

By Simon Thomas
Ireland players Jacob Stockdale and Peter OMahony acting as water carriers before the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and Fiji at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Jacob Stockdale has been through the full range of highs and lows on and off the field during his rugby career, with plenty of frustration along the way over the past couple of years.


But now he feels he has re-emerged a tougher character for the experience and with big hopes of playing an important role for Ireland come the World Cup.

He is also a new dad, with a seven-month old daughter, which he says has been a real life-changing experience. Life is now also good out on the pitch, with fitness fully restored and a first competitive try in two years notched up over the weekend, while he’s back in the Irish squad.

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It has been a real rollercoaster ride for the Ulster winger who made a stratospheric start to his Test career, marking his first Six Nations campaign in 2018 by setting a new try-scoring record for the tournament, touching down seven times to be named Player of the Championship.

He remained a regular in the Ireland team over the next couple of years, taking his cap tally to 35 and his try haul to 19.

Jacob Stockdale
Jacob Stockdale of Ireland scores his sides third try during NatWest Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on March 17, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)



But then, in the autumn of 2021, came the serious ankle injury that was to put him out of the game for some 12 months.

“It certainly has been a tough journey for me over the last couple of years,” he admits. “The injury to my ankle was probably the toughest year I have had as a professional rugby player.

“I picked it up in the first game of the 2021-22 season when we played Glasgow. I was out pretty much for a full year, coming back at the start of this season.

“That year was incredibly frustrating because it was a pretty unusual injury and not many people have re-habbed it or experienced it.


“Then I came back for a couple of games and injured my other ankle, so I would say 2022 as a whole was a pretty frustrating year for me.

“Outside of rugby though it was brilliant. I got married and had a baby, so I probably made the most of it!

“My daughter is seven months old now. My life has changed incredibly with becoming a dad, a lot more than I expected it to.”

Ulster Glasgow URC
Jacob Stockdale /PA

He continues: “Look, it was a really, really tough year for me rugby-wise and this season has been another pretty frustrating year just in terms of a few games not going the way I wanted them to, picking up a couple more injuries.

“But I finally feel like I’m now really fit and getting the performances.”

Reflecting on what he has been through, he adds: “It’s all been character-building, absolutely.
“I am a lot tougher now than I was a couple of years ago and I think that’s only going to do good for me over the next couple of seasons.


“I am feeling good now and kind of excited for what the next couple of years hold. There is lots for me to aim for.”

Selected in the Ireland squad for this Six Nations, Stockdale hasn’t been involved in the opening three victories over Wales, France and Italy, with his last cap having come against Japan back in July 2021. It’s a situation he is pretty philosophical about.

“The lads are flying right now. They are performing really, really well, the number one team in the world. I suppose it’s not necessarily a bad thing that you can’t get into the number one team in the world!” he says. “Obviously it’s a touch frustrating, but it’s an exciting place to be in that squad. I am very appreciative to Andy Farrell for giving me the opportunity to be there and trusting in me.

“I just want to show what I can do in an Ulster jersey over the next couple of months to try and get back into that green jersey come the World Cup.”

Stockdale, who is still only 26, did just that over the weekend, having been released from the Ireland squad to get some game-time in the BKT United Rugby Championship clash with Cardiff at the Arms Park.
He scored one of Ulster’s six tries in a 42-20 victory and it was a pretty special effort, as he received a pass out on the left, chipped over the top and collected the ball on the bounce to touch down in the corner.

“Accept for one in a pre-season game, I haven’t scored since 2021. That was my first competitive try since then,” reveals the man from the County Armagh town of Lurgan. “It was a great feeling. I just felt like it was coming and coming, but I never quite got it. It was a pretty nice way to score it as well.”

Ulster coach Dan McFarland was among those to cast an admiring eye.

“There are not many players that can do that kind of thing,” he said. “Jacob is such a dangerous threat in attack and it was really good to see him on fire there.

“He demonstrated what he is capable of in attack. His running was really good and he was good under the high ball as well. It was nice to see him back running with the ball and beating defenders.”

Jacob Stockdale
Jacob Stockdale /PA

It was a bonus point victory that took Ulster back up to third in the URC table and keeps them in the hunt for the top-two finish that would earn them home advantage through to the semi-finals in the play-offs. They are currently five points behind the second-placed Stormers, but their last three games are all at home while the South Africans have to travel to unbeaten league leaders Leinster in the next round.

Giving his thoughts on Saturday night’s Arms Park triumph, Stockdale said; “Cardiff are a very good team and particularly dangerous in attack. So we are delighted with that result. To win 42-20 away from home is a great performance. Five points is exactly what we needed and wanted.

“We have to keep winning now. We probably have a bit of an easier run-in than the Stormers do. That being said, there are no easy games in the URC anymore. They are all tough. From our point of view, we just need to do what we can, which is gain as many points as possible.”


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