'We just need him to keep being himself' - Sexton's vote of confidence for Stockdale
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton wants Jacob Stockdale to “keep being himself” after the Ulster player’s night to forget against France. Stockdale came in for heavy criticism following an error-ridden performance at fullback as Ireland fell to a 35-27 defeat in Paris which ended their Six Nations title hopes.
Filling the vacant fullback position has been a key issue for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell since he brought the curtain down on Rob Kearney’s long hold on the jersey.
Leinster’s Jordan Larmour appeared to be the heir apparent and started Ireland’s three Six Nations games before the season was suspended earlier this year.
However with injury ruling Larmour out of the autumn Test window, Stockdale took the No 15 jersey for the recent Six Nations games against Italy and France, despite his previous 28 caps all coming on the wing.
The 24-year-old has had an increasing amount of game-time at fullback with Ulster and while he remains a devastating attacking threat, he has been susceptible to defensive errors, and there remains some debate about his most effective position.
While Farrell is likely to experiment at fullback during the Autumn Nations Cup, Stockdale is still the leading candidate to fill the position in the opening two games against Wales and England.
And speaking to the media today, Ireland captain Sexton issued a vote of confidence in Stockdale, backing his teammate to put the France game behind him.
“I spoke to Jacob a couple of days ago and he’s been in good form,” Sexton said.
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“Obviously last week (against France) was tough for a lot of guys, for everyone really. You go into a big game and we don’t perform as a team to the level that we wanted, so it was a tough week last week. Guys were down. But guys have bounced back really well and I spoke to him.
“He’s a great guy, Jacob, and he knows that some of the mistakes that he made on the day, you capitalise on them… There was one time he made a great line break and the ball just slipped out of his hand. It was a bar of soap.
“Another one where it was fired at his feet, knocked-on… Those type of things, he’ll get them the next day.
“We just need him to keep being himself because you saw what he can do against Italy, you’ve seen what he can do, especially at fullback, over the season with Ulster.
“I can remember a couple of years ago playing a (Champions Cup) quarter-final (against Ulster), he was probably the best player on the pitch that day. Outstanding in the air, attacking.
“He’s kept his confidence, and we’re looking forward to seeing his best on Friday night.”
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