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Cool Stockdale can become complete package, says Bowe

 

By Cian Tracey

Some 15 months ago as the Ireland U20s were about to embark on what would prove to be an historic Junior World Cup campaign, Jacob Stockdale spoke about his fears of hanging around at Ulster for too long without securing a regular starting place.

As a 20-year-old, you could understand his anxiety, particularly given the queue of wingers ahead of him at the Kingspan, but his performances under Nigel Carolan's watch had been such that, in all honesty, he had very little to worry about.

Perhaps it was his youthful exuberance, or rather it was the reality of the modern climate, but Stockdale was already wise enough to know that big opportunities lie ahead both at home and abroad.

The Lisburn native lit up the U20s World Cup and was instrumental in Ireland reaching a first ever final. His sensational try in the semi-final win over Argentina was followed up with another moment of magic when his blistering step bamboozled another defence, which helped create another memorable score, this time for Munster's Shane Daly.

Stockdale, like Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery, James Ryan and Andrew Porter, has benefited hugely from playing under a coach like Carolan, who afforded the youngsters the chance to play heads-up rugby.

Barring Ringrose, who misses out with a shoulder injury, all four players will feature for Ireland this month, but it is Stockdale you feel has the most to gain.

Having made a try-scoring debut against the USA on the summer tour, Stockdale has been in sensational form for Ulster.

At 21, he is far from the finished article just yet, he knows that himself and so does Schmidt, but he ticks every box in terms of what Joe Schmidt looks for in a winger.

At 6ft 5in and weighing in at almost 102kg, Stockdale has in fact trimmed down since he was destroying defences at U20 level.

His intuitive understanding with Charles Piutau has been a joy to watch this season, and playing alongside arguably the best player in the Guinness PRO14 is only going to accelerate his development.

One of the players he has usurped for both club and country is Tommy Bowe but the 33-year-old has known for a long time that this moment would arrive.

He admitted: "Jacob has been a great talent coming through the system for a number of years. I've always had an eye out for him and over the last year-and-a-half I've been really impressed with how he has dealt with being thrown in.

"He always has an impact in the game. He isn't fazed by it all - getting his first cap in the summer, playing alongside the likes of Charles Piutau. You can see he relishes it.

"I think what Jacob does is that he always beats the first defender. He's a big, strong guy. Trucking it up isn't what you want him to be doing but whenever he does take it into contact he always seems to get well over the gain line.

"He's exceptionally good in the air, he's a really good finisher. He has it all there to be the complete package. He offers something different."

Bowe hit the nail on the head when he spoke about Stockdale's ability to beat the first defender on almost every occasion. His power is one thing but he is also deceptively quick, solid under the high ball as well as being a devastating finisher.

With five tries already to his name this season, and after some outstanding performances, he has earned a chance against South Africa on Saturday.

Keith Earls said this week: "Jacob's a phenomenal talent. From the moment I saw him and trained with him, I knew he had something special.

"He's been playing unbelievably for Ulster this year - he's massive, he's fast, he's an incredible finisher and he's so strong.

"He'll make mistakes as he gets older and it will start getting difficult when teams start figuring him out, but in my eyes, right now, he ticks every box."

Stockdale has spoken in the past about his desire to end up at outside centre, but the way the cards have fallen he could yet claim one of the winger's spots for years to come.

Playing the Springboks will be a step up from anything Stockdale has faced so far in his fledgling career but he will relish the call if it comes from Schmidt.

Just last month he scored a try of the season contender against Connacht in front of the watchful gaze of both the Kiwi and Andy Farrell.

His fearlessness mirrored that of what he did on a regular basis for the U20s and, if he gets the chance to do so again this weekend, don't be surprised to see him light up the Dublin night sky.

Belfast Telegraph

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