Belfast Telegraph

Chris Henry: Jacob Stockdale knows he messed up, but he has the character to move on from his mistake

Tough time: A dejected Jacob Stockdale at the Aviva Stadium
Tough time: A dejected Jacob Stockdale at the Aviva Stadium
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

Despite what has been said over the last few days in the aftermath of Ulster's Champions Cup exit, it's nonsense to say a player making a mistake on a rugby field is unforgivable. Jacob Stockdale won't need me or anybody else to tell him that he should have scored from the position he created for himself.

Rugby remains perhaps the ultimate team game but there's no doubt that Jacob will have felt like the loneliest man in the world at the final whistle on Saturday.

He'd no need to apologise but I understand why he felt he should. I could relate to that myself.

My Ireland debut came out in Australia in 2010, starting at No.8. All week long I can remember our video analyst Mervyn Murphy stressing that their scrum-half Luke Burgess had shown himself to be an adept pick-pocket in Super Rugby that season and to watch him going for the intercept.

All his advice must have gone out of my head just 16 minutes into the game. Off the back of a retreating scrum, I looked to get the ball away to our nine Tomas O'Leary when, much to my horror, Burgess jumped into the passing lane.

He only got a hand to it at first but my heart was in my mouth. Maybe he'd knock it on? Nope. Maybe someone could get back to cover? Wrong again.

I had to watch him scamper all the way across the whitewash. Ireland hadn't won a game in Australia since 1979... we lost by seven points. After that sort of mistake on your debut, I remember at the time hearing people say that's what my career would be remembered for.

Of course it wasn't, and nor will Jacob be remembered for not getting the ball down on Saturday.

What the other members of the squad said on Saturday is true. Without Stockdale in their number the province likely would have been sat watching the quarter-finals at home, while there are certainly only a handful of players in the world who could have got themselves into the position to score in the first place.

In the simplest of terms, one mistake doesn't lose a match.

He's only 22-years-old but of a strong character to put this behind him. For a man of his talents, this is just a blip.

Like every Ulsterman leaving the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night, my overwhelming emotion was one of pride. The result was a bitter pill to swallow of course, but the intensity shown by the side from start to finish was a sight to behold.

Each and every one of the players put their bodies on the line for the cause. It was a monumental effort to run the European champions as close as they did and I think one thing that was clear was the team spirit that has been created among the squad. Having been a part of that for the first few months of the season, it's something that I think has been bubbling along well throughout the year but really came to the fore on Saturday.

The bond between the boys is huge and I'm sure the other 15,000 fans in Dublin over the weekend came away thinking the same.

If we're honest with ourselves, I don't think Ulster were ever going to be the ones lifting the European Cup in St James' Park next month.

If Toulouse play in the semi-final like they did against Racing 92 on Sunday then, even in the Aviva, just getting to that final would have been a huge achievement.

Saturday still feels tough to stomach though. Leinster have caused us so much heartache over the years and I do have to wonder just when there'll next be a better chance to beat them on their own patch in a game of that magnitude. Let's just hope I'm wrong.

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