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How modest Stockdale is out-performing even his own expectations after another two Ireland tries

By Jonathan Bradley

Like any good try-scorer, Jacob Stockdale can remember all the purple patches of his career.

Media duties are becoming par for the course for Ulster's star in the making given his exploits since first donning a green jersey last summer, and he was once again stood deep in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a host of recording devices thrust in his direction.

After another two tries against Wales took his Test tally to eight in seven games, the 21-year-old was asked if he had ever enjoyed a scoring run to rival his first forays into international rugby.

"Ah, yeah, for Ireland under-18s I think I was eight from five games so I'm dropping off now," he laughed.

"It's not a bad start to my international career. Like I've been saying, I think the ball just keeps popping up in the right areas. I'm getting the rewards for that."

Such modesty is to be expected but the ball doesn't simply "pop up" for you eight times in seven games, not at this level.

Somewhat remarkably, only 28 men in the history of Irish rugby have scored more Test tries than the Ballynahinch and Wallace High product has managed in his first septet of outings in green. If he thinks that's luck, he should try his hand at blackjack.

Different eras naturally, but his next score for Ireland - who at this point would bet against that coming versus Scotland on March 10? - will see him draw level in the charts with Trevor Ringland and Mike Gibson.

Not bad company.

While Saturday's game saw him line-out with two of his former under-20 colleagues in James Ryan and Andrew Porter, it should not be forgotten that what Stockdale is doing is all the more incredible for the fact that he is only 21.

He admitted on Saturday that he hadn't even dared dream he'd be featuring in the Six Nations at such an early age, never mind be sitting with two rounds remaining as the championship's top try scorer.

"My goal and plan was to play Six Nations by the time I was 23," he reflected. "That got accelerated with Simon Zebo going to France and I'm pretty happy with how I'm taking my opportunities so far.

"I get nervous for every game whether its AIL club rugby right up to Six Nations, so yeah, the nerves were definitely there. I just try to feed off them and then get excited about it."

Scoring feats aside, it's been an interesting championship for Stockdale. In Paris, he seemed to take the brunt of the blame for the Teddy Thomas try after being one of at least three who didn't cover himself in glory.

Similarly, he was not overly sure of himself in the build-up to Wales' first score on Saturday, even if it was unlikely he could have done much when faced with a four on two overlap. It is a testament to his mental strength that he still had the confidence to go for the game-sealing intercept.

With the clock past 80, and Ireland only up by three having once led by as much as 14, any miscue would have been a catastrophe.

"I need to get this," he said simply of his thoughts when going for the do-or-die play when stakes were highest.

"I wasn't thinking 'should I do this? should I not?'

"I saw he was going to throw a long pass and I thought I could get into the space and get it. I still thought, that if it went over my head, I could still have read it and changed my direction to get out and defend it.

"We had really good pressure from the interior defence, I think it was Chris Farrell and he put a lot of pressure on Gareth Anscombe and got into the path. I knew they would have to go over the top and luckily he threw it over the top and I was in the spot to get it."

For all the tries and all the hype, it can be easily forgotten that he is still a work in progress. Being in the international set-up this season has opened his eyes to what is required to reach the very top.

"It's just how to survive at the top level of rugby," he said.

"You learn a lot about yourself and how you train, how you work when you're not on the rugby pitch.

"That's the biggest thing. There's a lot more behind the scenes that I had to learn which I didn't do before.

"My preparation before the game, knowing how the opposition attack, knowing my opposite man inside out.

"That stuff I wouldn't have really done before I came into the set-up. It's something that's driven by Joe and the senior players in the squad."

The man of the moment certainly thinks there's more to come.

Who knows how high he can climb?

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