I'll make up for horror mistake, says Jacob Stockdale
Edinburgh v Ulster, Guinness Pro14 Championship: Murrayfield, Tomorrow, 7.35pm
As defeat to Leinster signalled the end of Ulster's European campaign last month, Jacob Stockdale cut the loneliest figure in the Aviva Stadium.
While there were any number of turning points in a memorable quarter-final that hung in the balance until the bitter end, it had been the 23-year-old's fumbling of the ball when already across the try-line that dominated the post-match discourse.
Ulster were winning by two points when Stockdale burst through a host of tackles before failing with the hard work already behind him and he admitted yesterday that he'll always feel a try at that moment would have sent his side into the last four.
"It was obviously an incredibly tough couple of days for me after that game," said the 23-year-old, who will be hoping to get back among the tries when his side take on Edinburgh in Murrayfield tomorrow in a crucial PRO14 game (7.35pm kick-off).
"I made a mistake, I made a pretty big mistake. I'll probably play it over in my head thousands and thousands of times.
"I know everyone has said to me that it's not true but I feel it cost us a semi-final place. The amount of people that came down to watch us and the amount of people who paid money to come and watch us, for them not to come away celebrating a victory because I dropped the ball over the line, I just felt that I had to apologise and I had to accept it was my fault and I suppose it was a way of moving on, to say 'look, I'm sorry and it'll never happen again'."
In the immediate aftermath the wing, who on almost exactly the same spot a little over four months prior had delivered the score to beat the All Blacks in Dublin for a first time, asked skipper Rory Best if he could address the side to apologise once they had retreated to the relative privacy of the Aviva Stadium's away changing room.
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The response was reportedly a rousing one as team-mates rallied round to absolve him of blame.
On Instagram the next day, he echoed a similar sentiment to the fanbase and was likewise met with huge support.
That it was the side's most heralded player who had made the high-profile error, a figure known the rugby world over for his try-scoring exploits, seemingly made the situation all the more appealing for social media trolls but, instead, Stockdale was moved by the almost universally understanding nature of the response.
"The one thing that made it easier was the support I got," he said.
"That was the incredibly overwhelming thing and that gave me great respect for our fans. They were so kind of forgiving and were just like 'mate, don't worry about it'. That was really touching."
By and large, the Kingspan fanbase seemed to be rallying around their favourite son due to the TV coverage of the game, during which Brian O'Driscoll branded the error as "unforgivable".
Previously, Stockdale had no qualms about correcting the greatest Irish player of his youth when disagreeing with O'Driscoll's choice of words when the northern province were described as a "basketcase" last season. On this occasion, though, the Ulsterman took no issue with his description.
"To be honest it doesn't really bother me," he said. "Brian was an incredibly good player and he is a legend in the game and you know what, it probably is somewhat unforgivable to have a mistake like that happen in a game. I think his punditry was very fair.
"You're never going to agree 100 per cent with what somebody says about you but what he said was pretty fair."
Rugby evidently has a somewhat cruel sense of humour as, just six days later, Ulster found themselves again failing to score when already across the whitewash. This time it was Luke Marshall left red-faced as the province went down 30-7 against Glasgow. Stockdale, at least, attempted to get a smile out of his team-mate.
"I went over and said 'don't worry mate, it's not a quarter-final'. But yeah, it happens," he said.
"I think Lukey's was a bit different in that I don't think he did anything wrong, Tommy Seymour just did incredibly well to just kind of poke the ball out as he was going over."
That reverse has left Ulster still with plenty to do if they are to book a spot in the PRO14 play-offs after a two-season absence.
Currently sat second, Dan McFarland's men are in pole position to host a game in the first round but, just two and three points ahead of Benetton and Edinburgh respectively, could still find themselves on the outside looking in after tomorrow's potentially defining fixture.
While Iain Henderson should be back to boost the visitors, Edinburgh have beaten Scarlets, Leinster and Benetton in their last three league games.
Stockdale has fond memories of Murrayfield though, scoring for Ireland in the Six Nations there just two months ago, and while the occasion won't be quite the same, he needs no reminding that there is plenty riding on the penultimate 80 minutes of Ulster's regular season.
"Going over and playing for Ireland is something special and is not a hard game to get excited for, but in the same way going over and playing in a really important league game to try and secure a home quarter-final is again not a hard game to get up for," he reflected.
"It's obviously massively important for us.
"We need to go over and play the best we can and if that's enough then happy days and if not, then we're focusing on Leinster (in the final regular season game on April 27)," added Stockdale.
"To have a home quarter-final here is something we're all aiming for and to have that atmosphere and a bit of knock-out rugby here at home is massively exciting to think about."