Here's how two-try Stockdale can improve on impressive Ireland display, says Joe Schmidt
A clean sweep of the Autumn, and a seventh win in a row overall, but there was only one name on the lips of those streaming out of the Aviva Stadium after Ireland saw off Argentina on Saturday evening.
Ulster's man of the moment Jacob Stockdale has taken his provincial form onto the Test stage since making his debut over the summer, his two tries against the Pumas over the weekend bringing his tally to four in four when wearing the green jersey.
His try in the first half saw him link up well Jonathan Sexton after Chris Farrell had carried strongly, while his second just after the turn was an even better effort and put Ireland in control of the game.
Leading 20-0 at that stage of the contest, their opponents improved dramatically throughout the game's final quarter.
Indeed, by the end of the contest, they had matched Ireland in the try-scoring stakes, with the difference in the final scoreline provided by three Johnny Sexton penalties.
Joaquin Tuculet, who Ireland knew well from their last meeting at the 2015 World Cup, was first across the line for the Pumas, while it was CJ Stander who joined Stockdale on the scoresheet when Ireland mauled their way over in the 62nd minute.
Juan Manuel Leguizamon went over in the corner to reduce the arrears once again and, just when it seemed Ireland would sign off in style with a late score, an Argentina counter, aided by a questionable referring decision, saw Daniel Hourcade's men have the final say as Ramiro Moyano scored off a kick in behind.
Stockdale, though, had long since ensured what would be the primary post-match talking point. And while Joe Schmidt is a coach who issues public praise sparingly, even the Kiwi admitted he has been hugely impressed by what he has seen from the 21-year-old in his short career, although he did add that he wanted more defensively.
"He's a kid who's learning fast, and willing to learn," said Schmidt.
"He's got some great athleticism, very big power and he's a young lad.
"He finished that second try really impressively, because it wasn't just the flat line, it was the fact he could arc around someone as impressive as (Joaquin) Tuculet.
"So there were some impressive aspects but at the same time he was a little bit hesitant defensively at times, and trying to win the aerial battles were a battle for him.
"He'll get some real confidence from it I hope, but also he'll get motivation to try to improve on what he delivered tonight.
"I'm delighted that he's had the chance in Japan (over the summer) and the way he's building.
"It's a position where he's a natural left-footer, he put in a great left-foot kick early in the second-half to carve up a bit of territory.
"And I think there are many aspects of his game that can help us, so it's a position that we cast the net."
His captain for club and country, Rory Best, is sure that Stockdale will continue to work on the areas of his game that Schmidt states still need improvement.
"He's a quality player and what's impressed from last year to this is how he keeps on improving," said the hooker, who himself had another impressive outing against Argentina.
"If he keeps learning and stays grounded, there's a bright future for him, in a tough position.
"There's no doubt he's done really, really well, but he's benefited from the players he plays with as well."
On the other wing, Adam Byrne made his Ireland debut, while Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam and Dave Kearney also appeared during the Autumn.
With Keith Earls injured, and Simon Zebo not considered due to his impending move away, the emerging options for the 11 and 14 jerseys would seem to have Ireland in a good place ahead of the 2018 Six Nations which see them in Paris on the first weekend.
Indeed, speaking afterwards Schmidt name-checked Stockdale's Ulster team-mate Craig Gilroy, not seen in green since his Six Nations hat-trick against Italy last season, and said age would not rule out returns for Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe, who both scored in the province's win over Treviso.
"There's some good, experienced guys on the wing in Ulster who we would happily revert to," he said. "Craig Gilroy is only just back from injury, and Gilly's age profile is still pretty good. The other boys are still definitely in the mix, and I think it's important that everyone is still in the mix because we've got to go after the Six Nations as best we can.
"I know it's easy to say age is a number because it's a number that tends to drag all of us down in the end, but it's a number can be belied by performance.
"I know that because when Brad Thorn came into Leinster as a 38-year-old man he made an immense difference, so I woul dn't discard anyone at this stage and while you say it's two years away from the World Cup I suppose my riposte would be that it's two months away from the Six Nations."
Carrying a seven game winning streak into 2018, Schmidt is expecting a hugely testing year with the usual gruelling Six Nations to be followed by a three-game tour of Australia and a November series that is expected to include a rematch with Argentina and another tussle with the fearsome All Blacks.
Able to take plenty of confidence into the new year after this autumn, Schmidt remains ever the perfectionist, concluding that there would still be plenty to work on between now and the Six Nations.
"I know it is a little bit paradoxical to say I am delighted with the Guinness series and frustrated by a few things we didn't get right," he said.
"I know it is always a little bit like that when you try and strive to be better every time and there are bits that aren't quite right, you get frustrated.
"It was a little bit glum in the coach's box at the finish just because we conceded that try."
IRELAND: R Kearney; A Byrne, C Farrell (A Conway 60), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (I Keatley 75), C Murray (L McGrath 77); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 60), R Best (capt), T Furlong (J Ryan 67); I Henderson, J Ryan (D Toner 48) ; P O'Mahony (J Tracy 75), S O'Brien (R Ruddock 63), CJ Stander.
ARGENTINA: J Tuculet; R Moyano, M Moroni, S Gonzalez-Iglesias (J de la Fuente 57), E Boffelli (S Cancielliere 67); N Sanchez, M Landajo (G Bertranou 58); SG Botta (L Noguera Paz 64); A Creevy (capt), N Tatez Chaparro (E Pieretto 65); M Alemanno (G Petti 56), T Lavanini (JM Leguizamon 64); P Matera, M Kremer, T Lezana.
Referee: M Raynal (France)
Man of the match: Jacob Stockdale