Belfast Telegraph

My mum scolded me for patting La Rochelle's Jordaan on the head: Stockdale

 

By Michael Sadlier

Well, it was going to happen sometime.

A season of soaring progress suddenly swerved off the preferred route, leaving Jacob Stockdale to confront something considerably less than the usual high achievement.

That it occurred at the RDS Arena, a place of practically no memorable return for Ulster, somehow seemed fitting, though for the 21-year-old to succumb to this form of turbulence, even though he still bagged a late consolation score, was still quite a shock.

When the memory of the 38-7 pummelling at Leinster comes up, as he discusses Sunday's critical European Champions Cup clash at Wasps, Stockdale candidly addresses it without attempting to side-step the issue.

"The Leinster game was probably one of my poorest games so far in my career," Stockdale admitted.

"It brought my feet firmly back to the ground and made me realise that I'm definitely not the finished product and I've got a lot of work to do.

"I was really disappointed, particularly defensively, and it was really tough."

So, there was nothing else for it but to suck it up - he had featured prominently in some of the widespread defensive horrors on show on that occasion - and come back stronger.

And then, of course, performing like that in front of Joe Schmidt - who pointed out some defence issues in November even after Stockdale's two tries against Argentina - was never going to go unnoticed with the Six Nations so close at hand, though the four-times capped Ulsterman was still always making the Ireland squad.

Stockdale therefore had to come out all guns blazing in Ulster's key Champions Cup tie with La Rochelle last Saturday, and he duly delivered.

"I just focused on La Rochelle and wanted to have a big performance to prove wrong some of the criticisms I'd been receiving (after Leinster)," is how he explained last weekend's response.

He was clearly up for it, and his confrontation with Paul Jordaan after Charles Piutau had been clattered - which led to the South African's yellow card - resulted in the former Wallace High School pupil firing things up a few levels by first squaring up to him and then patting the head of the French side's number 23.

"That was something that maybe I shouldn't have done and my mum gave off to me about it," Stockdale recalled with a smile.

"But it was just the heat of the moment. I was trying to calm things down, I guess, but it was probably the wrong way to go about it."

He knows he'll have to keep his wits about him on Sunday at Wasps as Ulster are on the brink of making the European quarter-finals for the first time in four years.

Win with a try bonus point at Wasps and they top Pool One - which could lead to the huge fillip of a home quarter-final - while just a regulation win will also get them through as one of three best runners-up.

All a far cry from their form in the Guinness PRO14 over the festive period, but they are not over the line yet, with Stockdale yet to visit the knockout stages with the province.

"This is a massive game for me and for us as a team," Stockdale said of what's at stake at Wasps, who still retain faint hopes of qualifying.

"There's added pressure because of the game it is but it's a pressure that I and we as a team can handle.

"It's essentially a cup final, if we don't win this game it makes things a lot tougher for ourselves," he added without addressing the terminal damage defeat could do.

"I think going into every big game you feel a lot of pressure, but it's massive for me and I really want to put in a big performance this weekend."

His try-scoring exploits have become the stuff of legend. This season he has scored eight tries in 12 games for Ulster - and three in two November Tests for Ireland - with last weekend's try in the win over La Rochelle at Kingspan Stadium seeing him scatter tacklers from a standing start.

"I think it was more luck than anything else," Stockdale said modestly, while also paying tribute to another great Ulster try scorer, the soon to retire Tommy Bowe.

"Tommy has been superb. He's always been there to lend a tip or give a helpful word," he said.

"That's been invaluable," he added, before admitting that Bowe was his hero when growing up.

Back to the game though, and Stockdale reckons that Ulster will need to produce another accurate defensive display on Sunday at the Ricoh Arena - an unusual feature of this season - to secure the win.

"Our big focus will be on our defence and hopefully if that goes well our tries will come," he said.

If they make their tackles and take their points then Stockdale can depart for Ireland camp with quite a spring in his step.

Belfast Telegraph

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