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Jacob Stockdale out to seize a golden opportunity to prove his potential for Ulster

By Michael Sadlier

He recalls colliding with Ian Madigan, ending up in a heap alongside him on the turf, and, rather wisely, staying well clear of the glowering presence of Paul O'Connell.

Jacob Stockdale's memory of providing the opposition for Ireland's open training session at the Kingspan Stadium last March brings some amusement to what has largely been a conversation about the importance of tonight's season-opening friendly with Leinster (kick-off 7.30pm).

As the 19-year-old prepares for what will be only his third time in an Ulster senior shirt - a year on from his first start in last season's friendlies against Exeter and some game-time the next week with Leinster - his demeanour is a mix of youthful awe at having faced such a collection of seasoned internationals and a clear and mature hunger to taste success for himself.

"It was a fantastic experience," said the player who has already togged out for Ireland at Under-20 level and made quite an impression at this summer's Junior World Championship.

"And you can tell when you're training against them (the full Ireland squad) that they are some of the best players in the world."

And the former Wallace High School pupil laughed: "I stayed out of trouble pretty well!"

Now, though, Stockdale badly wants to kick on and, after last season was somewhat disrupted by injury, tonight is a great opportunity to help copper-fasten his reputation as a rising star with an eye for the try line.

He is due to come on and take his place on the wing in the second half when the entire team is scheduled to be rotated and then will hope that his 40 minutes might lead to further involvement in next week's friendly with Edinburgh, Ulster's last outing ahead of the PRO12 curtain raiser when the Ospreys come to Belfast on September 4.

"These games are made for us to show what we can do to set down a marker. This is my opportunity," said Stockdale who can also play full-back and centre with, if pushed, his preferred position being at 13.

"This part of the season is something I've been aiming for since the summer's Junior World Cup.

"I broke my toe last January and in my first game back after that I sprained my ankle, so because of that some of the other guys around me got chances (ahead of me) like Sam Arnold and Ross Adair.

"I felt that maybe if I'd been fit I'd have been there or thereabouts."

Stockdale did, though, manage to play and catch the eye for the Ulster Ravens during their less than impressive British and Irish Cup campaign.

"In terms of our team performances we were all quite disappointed about how it all went," he said of the Ravens experience.

"But in terms of my performances I was quite happy with how I played and I managed to pick up a man of the match award.

"I always felt that I was putting my hand up to be looked at for the senior squad but I think I'm going to push a bit harder in terms of the Ravens games (this season) and hopefully be more successful in the B&I Cup."

But what Stockdale really wants is an opening to push through and be part of the senior squad during the World Cup campaign, though he is very conscious that Craig Gilroy's return from Ireland duty and the possibility of Andrew Trimble also not making Joe Schmidt's final cut will hardly be advantageous.

And the youngster who begins a criminology course at Jordanstown next month also knows that Tommy Bowe will ultimately be around the place again.

"Last year was a bit frustrating. There's a lot of depth here as well so you just have to wait for the opportunity," Stockdale stated.

An opening presents itself now.

Belfast Telegraph


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