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Stockdale is a nightmare to stop in the Lomu class...the world is his oyster

 

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Jacob Stockdale is back for Ulster (Tommy Dickson/Inpho)

Jacob Stockdale is back for Ulster (Tommy Dickson/Inpho)

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

Jacob Stockdale is back for Ulster (Tommy Dickson/Inpho)

It's a sign of the times. A clean sweep of European wins over the weekend - two on the road - yet it all felt a little flat. Maybe it's the month that preceded it. We have been spoilt.

All four provinces are in with a realistic chance of reaching the knockout stages, and that is not something to be sniffed at.

Analysing the Champions Cup action, I feel Leinster put in a more substantial display than they have been credited with at Bath, but the outstanding Irish performance came from Ulster.

At Parc y Scarlets on Friday night, they deserved to win by more than a single point (25-24). They were superb in the first half.

Into the stiff gale blowing through west Wales on Friday night, Ulster were magnificent in the opening quarter, with Will Addison a worthy man of the match.

Again, much credit should go to David Nucifora and those working behind the scenes at the IRFU for attracting Addison - and Munster's Mike Haley, also English-born - to Irish rugby.

Where the FAI are coming up short with their recruitment efforts, the IRFU seem to get all their ducks lined up in a row.

In difficult conditions against Scarlets, Addison was the shining light in terms of creativity. Playing at outside centre, the versatile former Sale man provided the break for Jacob Stockdale's try - and the finish was right out of the top drawer.

Stockdale is such a natural talent on the left wing, chipping with or stepping off that lethal left peg, and his innate strength and clever deployment put him in the Jonah Lomu nightmare-to-stop category.

Yes, the physiques are different but Stockdale has the same ability to turn on the power when required, plus the bloody determination to make things happen. At 22 and scoring for fun at all levels, the world is his oyster.

But from Rory Best through Iain Henderson to Jordi Murphy and John Cooney, all of the front-line returnees were on song - and that is as it should be.

The result was another step forward in Ulster's rehabilitation under Dan McFarland.

For Leinster too, it was job done. It wasn't pretty, but you can blame the conditions for that.

And for me, that's the beauty of Leinster: whether it is spring sunshine in the RDS or a December storm in Bath, the willingness to get down and get dirty reflects the standards set by top-quality coaching and competition in almost every position.

If there was one flaw it related to the back-row where the experiment of three flankers (with Dan Leavy switching to No.8) looked lopsided.

That's no reflection on Leavy just the need for a Jack Conan, Max Deegan or Caelan Doris starting in what still remains a specialist position.

At Thomond Park, Munster won pulling up in a scruffy, error-ridden, low-tempo encounter. Lots of determination and territorial domination but precious little to show for it.

This was a game where the bonus point was lost rather than the match points won against a rag-bag Castres side.

The loss of the two star turns - Chris Farrell and Joey Carbery - before kick-off was a big blow to Munster and seemed to suck much of the atmosphere out of Thomond.

Credit JJ Hanrahan for an accomplished 20-point performance, given his last-minute inclusion.

A win is a win but this was not one to live too long in the memory.

Belfast Telegraph


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