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Comment: Why Jacob Stockdale is a coming superstar for Ireland, writes former Lion

 

By Tony Ward

Former Ireland and Lions out-half Tony Ward, in his Belfast Telegraph column, has had his say on Ireland's win over Argentina - including why he reckons Jacob Stockdale could be extra-special:

Haven't we come some way under Joe Schmidt that here we are at the end of a successful November series embracing three wins from three and yet we, myself included, are picking at whatever bones of negativity we can find. Maybe that's a good thing as we continue to hit standards of consistency unprecedented.

Saturday wasn't blemish free, anything but, yet in the final analysis the positives, and there were many, far outweigh the negatives of which there were a few. In terms of laying down an early marker, the opening two minutes plus were as close to clinical perfection as an exit strategy can get.

The composure, the discipline, the variation and the self belief when moving the ball through multiple pairs of hands from twenty two to twenty two, culminating in a Johnny Sexton penalty in front of the sticks made for the most perfect opening salvo from any Irish side ever.

As a statement of intent, and given the nature of this particular opposition, it laid down a clear and obvious marker. Whatever else, Rory Best, Peter O'Mahony and the rest were up for the fight. Best had stated in midweek the need not just to replicate the level of training from Carton House but up it substantially. In the opening 25 minutes they did and how.

On either side of the ball in that period they were in control of momentum and by extension the scoreboard with the 13 point differential a very fair reflection on what had transpired in that time. Indeed they might well have had more only for poor execution of a cross field kick by Conor Murray to Adam Byrne. Right idea, wrong club.

There were fleeting moments of individual and unit brilliance in what followed but credit where credit is due to Agustin Creevy and another very proud bunch of Puma rugby players who despite early signs of fatigue, particularly in the mobility of the tight five around the field, worked their way back into a game which in truth the home team always controlled.

In that scenario it would have been all too easy to throw in the towel and let Ireland cut loose as was the case in the final quarter against South Africa. There are better rugby playing nations but few if any play with greater pride or greater commitment to the cause than Argentina. Pride comes with wearing the national emblem but the Pumas consistently push the boundaries beyond that again.

On the back of Man of the Match Jacob Stockdale's second try, converted by Sexton and with a 20 point margin I expected Ireland to cut loose. In the end a try at the death made for an eight point difference on the scoreboard but given that it came from a break from under their own posts when a final Irish seven pointer seemed inevitable it might well have been 35-12 to Ireland. I'm glad it wasn't and in a sense justice was done by way of a more friendly scoreboard to the visitors.

On the basis of second quarter and second half possession it was no more than they deserved. It is within that context that this win and its forensic examination will be carried out. Nothing surer. That said there was still so much to admire about this performance. Starting at the very back where Rob Kearney was immense. I repeat time and again that the Leinster fifteen is not your prototype full back entering the line at third centre and setting the wing racing free.

What he is, however, is the consummate moral leader who accepts responsibility in everything he does.

I think it highly significant that the head coach risked an entire three quarter line just about boasting a handful of caps between them but bolstered by Kearney at the back and by Murray and Sexton in front. On a personal level I am delighted to see him back on song proving that good things come to those who persevere and wait.

Byrne on the right got little to do in attack but was absolute in all he did defensively including as it did a stint in the centre. Stockdale on the other flank represented the biggest single plus alongside Andrew Conway, Cian Healy, and Chris Farrell from this entire series. And no we're not forgetting James Ryan or Rhys Ruddock.

Stockdale is a coming superstar. Because he is so physically imposing it is easy to overlook that he is still so young. He has size, pace and the confidence to back himself in any one to one. Not since Denis Hickie have we had a natural left sided player of that calibre. However it is his instinctive lines of support in search of the whitewash that marks him as special to me.

But the surprise package to me over the last fortnight has been Farrell and here Schmidt must surely take a bow. With respect to Rassie Erasmus and all at Munster, what we witnessed in the Aviva in terms of soft hands, appreciation of space and accuracy in passing off either side was light years removed from anything we have seen thus far in his midfield role when wearing red. For me only Stockdale eclipsed him in the race for outstanding man in green.

Inside of that, the entire front row stood up with Tadgh Furlong now as vital to the cause as either of the first choice half backs. Despite everything coming through he is virtually irreplaceable. As for Best, the vintage wine analogy holds with his decision making in the white heat of battle par excellence. James Ryan may be a tomorrow man but that tomorrow is fast approaching while Iain Henderson's athleticism in line out fetching was sublime. He could be a leader in the Paul O'Connell mould and needs to start asserting himself as such.

We are coming down with back row forwards but in the search for balance the three current Lions hold their own. The big question ahead of Paris next up will be balance in midfield. He did many good things defensively but Bundee Aki disappointed in distribution against the Pumas. That said two from Robbie Henshaw, Farrell, Aki, Jared Payne and Garry Ringrose ain't a half bad dilemma.

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