Stockdale and the young trio show seismic shift in Irish rugby’s player production line
Nothing illustrates better the seismic shift in producing modern Test rugby players than what happened in New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena two nights ago.
In June 2016, three of Ireland’s match day 23 against the US were running around with lads their own age. Now they are Test players hoping to be regulars by the time Ireland return to Japan for the 2019 World Cup.
Their immediate focus back then would have been on getting as far as possible in the U-20 World Cup. Doing well there was a launching pad for provincial stuff. These were Academy lads. Getting some game time in the Guinness PRO12 was an ambitious enough target.
Ulster's Jacob Stockdale was leading the charge there: he had six games under his belt before heading to Manchester with the 20s. As an outside back of nearly 6ft 4in and 15 stone, he already had a head start. The other pair are grunts. They were a mile off a run with the seniors.
In Andrew Porter’s case the journey would be complicated slightly by his freakishly powerful frame. Tightheads are a more valuable commodity than looseheads. He looked like he could make the shift across the scrum, but it would take more time.
As for James Ryan, he came through the schools system and was marked out as a leader who one day would play for his country. The prediction didn’t convey the message that the national bit would come before playing for his province — or that he would be a contender for a world record for the fastest Test try by a new cap.
It’s hard to fathom how you could embark on an international tour when you have zero senior provincial experience, and so little gas in your tank, without getting palpitations.
The modern production line for players is spitting out sleek machines that don’t need road tested. In equal measure you wish them all the best, and hope those designing the system don’t shut off the valve that allows for late developers to get on board.
This is a sport proud to accommodate all shapes and sizes. That needs to be figurative as well as literal.