Belfast Telegraph

Star Stockdale's new deal is a huge boost for province

By Michael Sadlier

Though it was hardly a surprise that Jacob Stockdale has chosen to stay on at Ulster, the importance of being able to retain the services of some proven star quality will have done much to bolster belief at Kingspan Stadium that things can be turned around.

The 21-year-old - who turns 22 in April - is bound to have been a very attractive prospect for clubs across the water, especially in France where there's more spending power to tempt players away, but Stockdale has opted to extend his time at Ulster until 2020 which will obviously take in next year's World Cup in Japan.

Of course, had he chosen to display his try-scoring abilities outside Ireland then that would have undoubtedly cut him out of Joe Schmidt's plans in much the same way Simon Zebo's move to France has been handled.

And as he is currently in possession of one of the wing slots in the Irish team, Stockdale will be aiming to continue his exposure to international rugby and make next year's World Cup before pondering on what he might do in two years' time.

Stockdale's rise has been rapid, and he only made his Ireland debut last summer when he scored on his debut against the USA. He now has six tries after the same number of international appearances, with two of these touchdowns coming in the recent Six Nations win over Italy.

The winger's form for Ulster is pretty tidy too with 17 tries having been scored in his 37 appearances, while this season he has managed eight in 13 games.

The former Wallace High School pupil is hot property and the message both he and Craig Gilroy have sent out regarding Ulster's future after what has, so far, been a season with precious little to recommend it, will have done much to boost morale.

Now only what will happen to Iain Henderson and Rory Best, beyond this season, is yet to be made known of the province's currently rather meagre crop of Ireland front-liners.

And with Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore having signed on to bolster Ulster's pack for next season - along with the hoped for return to fitness of Marcell Coetzee - having Stockdale and Gilroy still on board will help keep the backline looking sharp in the aftermath of Charles Piutau's departure.

"Hopefully I can continue to improve at Ulster and I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can achieve over the next few seasons," said Stockdale.

"As a young lad from Ulster, I've grown up watching the club and to get to pull on the white jersey is an honour for me."

Ulster's Operations Director Bryn Cunningham said: "Jacob's rise has been incredible.

"At 6 foot 3 inches and 16 stone, he has a real physical presence on the wing, but he also has pace to burn and great skills.

"With his future now secure, he can focus on continuing his development," added Cunningham.

Stockdale made his senior Ulster debut in January 2016 and shone for Ireland U20s at two World Championships, including the run to the 2016 final.

He has played his club rugby at both Queen's University and Ballynahinch, the latter where it all began through mini rugby.

Belfast Telegraph

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