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Jacob Stockdale ready to prove he belongs on biggest stage

 

By Jonathan Bradley

As this November has shown, Jacob Stockdale is not the future, he's the present.The Ulster wing, who has been in sparkling form now for the better part of a year and has seamlessly carried his domestic form into the Test arena, scoring two tries in his three caps so far, including last time out against the Springboks.

And he'll have the chance to add to that tally tomorrow when he again pulls on the green 11 jersey as Joe Schmidt's side take on Argentina in the Aviva Stadium (5.30pm).

Just 18 months ago, Stockdale was also starring for Ireland, this time at Under-20s level as the juniors downed New Zealand and went all the way to a World Cup final but were soundly beaten by England.

Also in that team were James Ryan and Andrew Porter, both who have joined Stockdale in featuring this November, so too Greg Jones who will make an Ulster debut against Treviso tonight.

On the rapid ascension through the ranks, Stockdale has enjoyed having some familiar faces making the same journey.

"We all played in that team together in a really successful year, and probably off the back of that is the reason why we've done so well," Stockdale reflects. "It's pretty exciting for us to do it all together.

"(Beating New Zealand) was really special for me. The year before, they'd been in our group as well and I'd lost to them, so there was a bit of vengeance going out and I really wanted to beat them.

"We were the first male team to beat them in a competitive game which was pretty exciting for us. There were a lot of confident players in that group. Nigel Carolan deserves a lot of credit, he instills a lot of confidence in us. He encouraged us to play rugby.

"We got to a final, I wouldn't say we nearly won it, we were beaten pretty convincingly in the end. But it was an incredible experience to get that far and win that many matches in a row. It was great."

In tomorrow's battle against what is a misfiring Pumas side, Stockdale is one who bears no battle scars from past meetings, most notably the 2015 World Cup when an injury-decimated Ireland couldn't take what appeared their best chance to book a first-ever semi-final spot.

"It's all kind of a new experience for us," said Stockdale.

"But that being said, it's hard not to feel the hurt that the guys have felt, especially now we are going into the Argentina game because they beat us in the quarter-final in 2015.

"It's great to be going in with a clean slate and just play the rugby that I want to play and we want to play. Having said that, I still think there will be an added edge."

On a personal level, Stockdale's report card for his international career would read more of the same.

Even against the Springboks, in a game when the ball took its sweet time to come his way, he still managed some memorable moments.

In a strong finish, his 68th minute tackle on Dillyn Leyds sparked a rapid-fire finish that saw him involved in one try and score another.

Tomorrow, he expects to make a similar impact.

"I just have to do everything I can right," he said simply.

"Against South Africa I didn't really get much opportunity with the ball, but anything I did, I did well.

"I think it's the same against Argentina, I've done my prep, I know them inside out and I know what I'm doing. So it's just down to the game and if the opportunities come I've to take them.

"The South Africa game was the first time I've played at the Aviva, 30,000 more people than I've ever played in front of before.

"So it was a bit of a change up. I maybe felt that I had to feel my way into the game more than I'd usually like to.

"I was pretty, maybe not chilled out, but I tried to keep myself calm because it's the kind of thing you can't control.

"You can control what you do, and if the ball comes you control what you do with it. But you can't control where the ball goes and if you get opportunities or not.

"The tackle in the 68th minute, that was kind of a big turning point in the game for me and off the back of that I had a couple of involvements in a row and it really helped me to get into the game.

"But I didn't feel like I was out of the game at any point, I think from the first whistle I was switched on, I was concentrating and I got a few touches early on which helped.

"I wasn't really that worried in the first half, at the same time I was glad for a few more involvements in the second half.

"That being said, hopefully (against) Argentina I'll be used to everything that comes with an Irish game in Dublin."

Stockdale already seems right at home.

Ireland: R Kearney, A Byrne (both Leinster), C Farrell (Munster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong, James Ryan (both Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), P O'Mahony (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

Replacements: J Tracy (Leinster), D Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), D Toner, R Ruddock, L McGrath (all Leinster), I Keatley, A Conway (both Munster).

Argentina: J Tuculet, R Moyano, M Moroni, S Gonzalez, E Boffelli, N Sanchez, M Landajo, S Garcia Botta, A Creevy (capt), N Tetaz Chaparro, M Alemanno, T Lavanini, P Matera, M Kremer, T Lezana. Replacements: J Montoya, L Noguera, E Pieretto, G Petti, J M Leguizamon, G Beretranou, J de la Fuente, S Cancelliere.

Ireland vs Argentina

Guinness Series

Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 5.30pm

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