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Stockdale is aiming to dislodge big names at Ulster

Ulster's top scorer happy to bide time as he targets a regular place

By Jonathan Bradley

Given the frequency with which injuries will strike a professional rugby squad, tonight's game with Treviso (7.35pm kick-off) has provided Ulster's Director of Rugby Les Kiss with something of a rarity - all his wingers are fit and available.

When all are raring to go, the Australian has four fully fledged internationals to choose from to fill his number 11 and 14 jerseys, with Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Tommy Bowe all appearing for Ireland already during this Six Nations and Charles Piutau having swapped his place in the All Blacks for a move north.

Complicating the selection battle further, the most prolific of the province's outside speedsters this season has been the most unheralded of them all, Academy product Jacob Stockdale.

In just six starts, the 20-year-old has ran in seven tries with only Glasgow's Tommy Seymour having dotted down more PRO12 scores this season.

Seymour, of course, was once in a similar position at Ulster to Stockdale, looking at the established names ahead of him and wondering if he'd ever crack the starting side at the Kingspan Stadium.

American-born, but educated in Downpatrick, Seymour opted to try his luck elsewhere, moving to Glasgow where he has won a PRO12 title and forged a successful international career with Scotland.

It's a route that Stockdale admits he considered as recently as last summer.

"It was something I maybe wasn't completely sure of at the start of the season," he said of his Ulster future.

"Just the fact that there were all those names ahead of me.

"But getting 10 or 12 games a season, I think it's a testament to the faith the coaches have in me and how they've changed the team.

"Obviously, 20 (starts) would be nicer but that might be pushing it."

While the last comment was tongue in cheek, it will no doubt be a frustration to again see his name among the replacements for this evening's clash.

With Trimble and Piutau starting, and even with Gilroy moved to full-back in the absence of Louis Ludik, Stockdale will wear 23 tonight while Bowe is rotated out of the match-day squad.

Full of the exuberance of youth, and buoyed by the confidence of four tries in his last three games, the former Wallace High stand-out admitted he and Kiss have recently spoken about the need for patience.

"It does get a bit frustrating but you have to look at it, not from a personal perspective, but a team perspective," said the man who still expresses a preference for playing outside centre. "I can't complain at the moment. There's still a lot of very good players ahead of me so I'm just trying to get my name on the team sheet.

"I have complete faith in Kissy and the coaches and what they're doing with the team.

"If there are times when that means me not playing, I have to be happy with that.

"It's unfortunate sometimes, and it can be frustrating, but that's the way it has to be.

"There's quite an extensive plan for every player, making sure that nobody is getting burned out.

"Kissy has had that conversation with me, making sure that I know if I'm not playing, it's not always down to how I'm playing. It can just be about saving my legs a bit."

While tries from Robbie Diack and David Busby followed, it was Stockdale's score against Zebre last week that brought the bonus point and ensured it was a case of objective achieved in Parma.

The performance wasn't always reflective of the rewards secured though, and Stockdale admitted there were some mixed emotions on the flight back from northern Italy.

"We were happy that we got the job done, got the bonus point, but we want to put together an 80-minute performance, not 65 or 50," he reflected.

"I think from that perspective, we were a bit frustrated.

"Zebre can be tough to play against, they can make it messy.

"I think in the first half we lost sight of what we were trying to do and were trying to pull out wonder plays that didn't work.

"The second half we went back to our game plan.

"But you go away and score 40 points, you can't be too annoyed."

Stockdale is expecting a similar challenge for the squad this evening, and hoping they can secure the same result.

"We'd said before Zebre about how we knew that's how Italian teams play and we were annoyed we let it become the kind of messy, chaotic game that they wanted," he added.

"Going forward this week, we have to focus more that we don't make so many mistakes.

"The position we're in, we have to make sure we can get bonus points wherever we can."

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