Belfast Telegraph

Stockdale hoping to fulfil dream by playing at Kingspan

By Jonathan Bradley

In Jacob Stockdale's own words, he was never likely to be a footballer.

Born into a family obsessed with the oval ball, last weekend's debutant was a rugby player from his first steps and an anticipated competitive outing at the home of Ulster Rugby against the Dragons on Friday night will be the culmination of a life-long ambition.

Denied a run-out at the stadium two years ago when his Wallace side lost their Danske Bank Schools' Cup semi-final to eventual winners Methody, the 20-year-old can barely contain his excitement at the prospect of performing on the ground where he used to stand in the terraces as a child.

"Apparently when I was born my granddad brought a rugby ball to the bedside," he recalled.

"I was never going to be a footballer. This is what I've been dreaming about since I was a kid, back when I was coming to the games myself to watch.

"To finally get an opportunity to play rugby in front of 18,000 people, it is really exciting.

"I had a bit of a taste in the pre-season games but it's still a bit different playing in the PRO12 because it actually means something. It matters."

Having made his first senior appearance some 1,500 miles from home in the victory against Treviso last weekend, there was no family on hand to share the moment but the Ireland Under-20 back expects quite the opposite on Friday.

"Unfortunately they were working and Treviso is a bit of a distance," he said.

"If I'm lucky enough to play this week, I'll have family, friends, my girlfriend… everybody I can."

While there may have been no familiar faces in the stands at the Stadio Monigo, there was certainly one alongside him on the bench with housemate Lorcan Dow another to make his debut in the north of Italy.

"It was just pure excitement," Stockdale said of the build-up to the game. "To finally get that call-up was really thrilling.

"I knew earlier in the week, whereas Lorcan only found out later with Nick Williams pulling out. I felt I couldn't really celebrate too much at the start of the week but once Lorcan got called in too then it was really exciting.

"There was a real atmosphere in our house leading up to it. We've been friends for a while now so it was great to make my debut with him."

Capable of playing anywhere in the outside backs, for a player who grew up watching Brian O'Driscoll with great admiration, his favoured position is outside centre.

For now, though, he is content to battle it out for a wing berth.

"I've always thought it (versatility) helps to get in the team but not to start," he said.

"If you get your opportunity, it may not be in your primary position.

"Ideally I'd play 13 but there's a lot of really good centres here. I'm happy enough to play wing and get my chances there."

A possible inclusion of Stockdale from the start against Dragons would not be the only change to the team that beat Treviso with Ulster expecting to learn today who, if anyone, will be released back from Ireland duty.

Williams is on course to return for the game which could see Ulster move top of the PRO12 as he is making good progress from a groin niggle while Robbie Diack, having been rested last week, looks set to be pitched straight back into the six jersey.

Peter Browne is expected to come into the engine room with Franco van der Merwe due a well-earned break.

Ruan Pienaar is again in contention after missing the last two games with a virus but Chris Henry's shoulder problem still needs more time.

Having finished the Treviso game at out-half, any time at 10 for the fit-again Stuart Olding on Friday is thought more likely to come in the shape of a cameo than a start.

Belfast Telegraph


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