Jacob Stockdale: I still expect Ireland to win the World Cup after disappointing Six Nations campaign
Jacob Stockdale isn't fond of the use of hyperbole to describe his rapid rise through the rugby ranks, but the upcoming World Cup, for which he was yesterday named among six Ulstermen in the Ireland training squad, is another example of just how much the 23-year-old has achieved in a short space of time.
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Four years ago when the Ireland squad was similarly called in large numbers to prepare for the 2015 World Cup, Stockdale hadn't even represented his province yet.
With Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave and Jared Payne all included then, the then-teenage wing set about leaving an impression in Ulster, making his debut in that summer's pre-season friendly matches before a full senior bow arrived later that same campaign.
Since then, there's rarely seemed pause for breath, a potted history of his trajectory including an Ireland debut at 21, 14 tries in 19 Test caps, a record-setting Six Nations in 2018 and the historic score to beat the All Blacks in Dublin later that same year. For all he's packed in, there remains a youthful enthusiasm for what lies ahead in Japan later this year.
"2011 was the first one where I sat down and remember watching all the games," he said of a tournament that featured seven of his current team-mates.
"I watched those games at home flat out, the games were on at 4am, 7am and 11am. I'd be up at 4am watching all three pool matches.
"I was a zombie (in class) for about a month and a half but that was no different to any other time I was at school."
Just as Stockdale has little memory of World Cups past, and no playing experience to draw upon, nor does he bear any of the scars from Ireland's previous failed efforts.
While for many making a first semi-final would represent the breaking of a glass ceiling, the end of one last hoodoo before Joe Schmidt departs these shores, Stockdale has the confidence to aim higher, even after the relative disappointment of a third-place finish in the most recent Six Nations.
"If you'd asked anyone after the November games what is your expectation for the World Cup, it would have been definitely go over and win it, if we are not in the final that's a serious disappointment," he said in his role as a Maxol brand champion.
"For most people that has probably changed since the Six Nations. For me, I'm still expecting to go over and win a World Cup.
"You don't go over to a World Cup only expecting to get to a quarter-final or a semi-final. If you are not going over to win then what's the point?
"It might be bold and brash to say it now, that we're going to win it, but you look at what we've done in the past: we talked about winning a Grand Slam, we talked about beating New Zealand at home, we talked about these things we wanted to do and we did them.
"And, moving forward in a World Cup, I want to win a World Cup. That's the only way you're going to do it, by saying you are going to do it.
"Maybe that's just me, maybe I'm overconfident. But I've always found that the more I tell myself that I'm going to do something, the more I end up doing it. I think it's incredibly important to have a positive mindset.
"Above all else, I'm just really excited to get to go over and play in a World Cup. If we don't win it, we don't, but there's no point in going over and just hoping to do well."
It won't all be new to Stockdale, however.
Along with 18 more of those named yesterday, he was in Japan with the side two years ago, starting the second Test of a tour that also featured a visit to the stadium where Ireland will meet the host nation in their second pool game.
"It is different culturally and everything to what you've experienced before," he reflected. "At first, I didn't really like it. The first couple of days I was like, 'This is too strange', but after a while you start to get used to it and I was really enjoying it by the time I was leaving. I actually can't wait until I get back.
"Rugby-wise, it is going to be a challenge. We were over there in June last time and the weather was really hot and humid and it does take your breath away whenever you're playing. Obviously that's something we're going to have to adapt to. So there are a few challenges but I'm excited to get over.
"During the season, you're kind of looking at it in the back of your mind and you don't want to put too much of a focus on it because there's obviously a lot of rugby you're playing at that moment that you want to be focused on. But now the season is over, that's the only thing you have to look to."