Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Jacob aims to land a knockout blow


By Jonathan Bradley

Next on Jacob Stockdale's list is bringing knock-out rugby back to Kinsgpan Stadium.

The 21-year-old, now a star not just for Ulster but Ireland too, has excelled in recent times but, for all his achievements, he has never played a game of winner-takes-all rugby at senior level.

Ulster, though, can take a big step towards a return to the Champions Cup quarter-finals in Belfast this evening with Harlequins in town (7.45pm kick-off), and Stockdale is eager to keep the European campaign alive.

"I've never got to experience knockout rugby and it's something I'm really keen to get an opportunity to do," he said. "To get to the quarter-finals in Europe would be massive for us as a team and for me personally.

"At the same time, there's an awful lot of rugby to be played and we'll have to take each week as it comes, work hard, and get one win after another.

"The next three games are massive for us. How your December goes can impact how you're set up for the rest of the season, so it's massively important."

Stockdale, with nine tries in nine starts for club and country this season, is again on Ulster's wing tonight, but the side have made two changes.

Chris Henry replaces Sean Reidy, while Louis Ludik comes in for the injured Tommy Bowe.

Both Henry and Ludik came off the bench in the reverse fixture last week, helping Ulster to a 17-5 win and their first victory on English soil in almost four years.

Despite just five days between that game and tonight's rematch, changes have been kept to a minimum.

Bowe's injured hamstring forced Les Kiss' hand in the midfield, where the Australian brought in Ludik rather than restore the recently absent Darren Cave or even move Stockdale off the left wing where he has been so successful.

With hooker and captain Rory Best still missing, Rob Herring, who was superb a week ago, remains in the No.2 jersey with John Andrew as his back-up on the bench.

Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst are still in situ either side of Herring, with Alan O'Connor and Kieran Treadwell maintaining their second-row partnership.

The side will once again be skippered by Iain Henderson, with Nick Timoney remaining at No.8.

Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau join Stockdale in the back-three, while Stuart McCloskey will link up with Ludik in the centre.

Both John Cooney, the man of the match from last week's victory, and Wallaby Christian Leali'ifano are again selected at half-back.

With Reidy and Henry swapping places, and the native Kiwi taking a place on the bench, Andrew Trimble is the only addition to the matchday 23 who didn't feature in England last week, the winger named among the replacements.

Belfast Telegraph

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