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Jacob Stockdale discusses 'phenomenal' feeling of scoring for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Jacob Stockdale hasn't let many games pass him by without getting across the whitewash of late and, in the biggest game of his career, Saturday would prove no different.

The 21-year-old made his Ireland debut against the USA in New Jersey last summer, scoring that day after collecting a fine pass from Keith Earls, but to play in a home Test, against South Africa no less, was a different kettle of fish and the fulfilment of a childhood dream.

Standing in a sold-out Aviva as the anthems blared, the youngster admitted he had little time to take it all in.

"To be honest I was just trying to keep myself calm and collected," he said. "I knew that if I knew what I was doing during the game, I'd be alright, so I was trying to stay focused.

"The first games in New York and Japan were really special, they were really, really good experiences, but nothing compares to that anthem in a packed Aviva Stadium. It's pretty special, isn't it?"

In front of watching parents, sisters and his girlfriend, it certainly was for the former Wallace High stand-out who had more and more influence on the game as it wore on, culminating in a highlight-filled final quarter.

First there was his huge hit on Dillyn Leyds that forced his opposing wing to knock the ball on and give possession back to Ireland, and it was then he finally got a chance to show his considerable pace.

Screaming on to a nice inside pass from Johnny Sexton, the speedster was instrumental in Rhys Ruddock's try that sealed the game for Ireland, before grabbing his second Test try when he finished off a flowing move in the left corner.

"I mean this was my first game against a Tier 1 nation so I didn't really know what to expect," he said.

"But I felt like I grew into the game really well and felt comfortable by the end of it, and yeah, I was enjoying myself when I made that hit to be honest. It was good to get my hands on the ball a wee bit and really go hard at them.

"(Scoring) was phenomenal. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before. It was a bit of relief that I actually scored - it was just a really great feeling. If I score I don't really know what I do after."

Even with his key involvements in stretching Ireland's lead in the closing stages, Stockdale knows that it will take more to wholly satisfy the exacting eye of Joe Schmidt.

The head coach is famous for his "work-ons" and, as is par for the course, there were some for his latest charge.

"Joe demands excellence and I think that's why he's been so successful.

"For me coming in, it's tough, but I think it's a really, really enjoyable challenge and I'm really enjoying it.

"He just said that it was a great win and that we need to go and do the same next week and the week after, he said we did well but we have to keep working hard and kick on."

While understanding he is not quite the finished article just yet, the green number 11 jersey looks like it is his to lose between now and the 2019 World Cup, but you won't see the Ulster Academy product thinking as such.

Indeed, with Schmidt expected to wrap many of his regulars in cotton wool for the visit of Fiji on Saturday, Stockdale is one that will be putting his hand up for duty.

"Oh yeah, I'd love to (play)," he said.

"I just want to play as much rugby as I can now and play as many games as a I can, but that's down to Joe and there's obviously a lot of competition and there are guys who deserve that opportunity as well.

"So if I get to play then brilliant, and if I don't then I'll keep working and hopefully I'll get in against Argentina."

If everything is going Stockdale's way right now, the same cannot be said for Springboks coach Allister Coetzee.

After some of the worst results in the side's history over the last 18 months, and Munster's Rassie Erasmus soon to come home, Coetzee appears to be living on borrowed time.

"You're always under pressure at Test level," he said afterwards.

"Our inconsistency for me is something I'd like to see improve in a big way. The Jekyll and Hyde element, at times we play well.

"I cannot see anything like this changing in a short space of time.

"It's difficult to explain, no positives from our side to be honest.

"It's a disappointing defeat, as a group we take full responsibility, we let ourselves down and our support back home.

"We just have to fight our way back from this one.

"I have to give credit to Ireland, they played tactically very, very well."

Belfast Telegraph

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