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Jacob Stockdale ready to grab his Six Nations chance in France

 

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Focused: Jacob Stockdale at Ireland’s Carton House training base

Focused: Jacob Stockdale at Ireland’s Carton House training base

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Focused: Jacob Stockdale at Ireland’s Carton House training base

In an age where everything, it seems, must be instantaneous, it should perhaps come as no surprise how quickly the mantle of Irish rugby's coming man can change hands.

With four Test tries for Ireland before his 22nd birthday, stardom beckons for Ulster's Jacob Stockdale and, at an age when most contemporaries are still battling for a provincial breakthrough, he is the man in possession of Ireland's number 11 jersey heading into a Six Nations campaign that kicks off against France in Paris on Saturday (4.45pm kick-off).

Already though, he is having to stave off younger competition with Leinster's Jordan Larmour seizing the "man-of-the-moment" tag thanks to his eye-catching festive season.

Just 20 years old, the Dubliner can line out across the back-three, and has already bagged a try-of-the-year contender against Munster on Boxing Day while Ulster themselves have been left bamboozled by his devastating side-step in two further inter-pros this season.

With Rob Kearney and Keith Earls Joe Schmidt's tried and trusted options for the full-back and one wing slot respectively, it seems like Stockdale is the man left to fend off the even younger star's designs on a starting jersey.

"Jordan has done well and deserves his spot in the squad, he's a really good guy" said Stockdale yesterday, fresh from winning both the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year and George Best Breakthrough awards at Monday night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

"He'll be pushing for a place so hopefully I can keep him subdued as well.

"I'm probably best-suited to the left wing just because I'm a left-footer so for kicking it makes it a bit easier.

"That's just where I've been playing all season so I feel that's just where I'm most confident and most comfortable at the moment.

"I feel like I've done my best to give myself a good chance.

"Hopefully Keith (Earls) will be on the right wing and leave the left to me! He's in phenomenal form, lightning at the moment and I think he's sure to start.

"He's a brilliant player to be alongside. As a young guy, he wants to impart some of his wisdom on to you.

"The same with Rob Kearney in the autumn - it's having two really experienced guys who can keep you right.

"It was the same with Ulster, coming up through the ranks with (Tommy) Bowe and (Andrew) Trimble," he added.

While Schmidt is often viewed as a cautious selector, and the instinct would certainly be that Larmour is held in reserve for later in the championship, there are two things working against the Ulsterman in his bid for the start.

Firstly, a dead leg sustained in his province's failed attempt to qualify for the Champions Cup quarter-finals caused him to have to sit out much of the side's warm weather training camp in Spain last week, while his own Christmas period was certainly in stark contrast to Larmour's.

Having saw little of the ball against Connacht in Galway, back on the wing for the trip to Leinster in the RDS was probably his worst Ulster game and he was badly exposed defensively in a game that was dominated by the boys in blue.

For all that he's achieved so soon, such mistakes should surely be chalked up to the inexperience of a player still learning the game at the highest level, but they created something of a negative narrative for a first time in his career.

That he responded strongly against La Rochelle a week later, scoring a try from nothing that had even the likes of Willie John McBride purring, he believes it was important to quickly put the speedbump in the rear-view mirror.

"Leinster was a tough one to take for me," he admitted candidly. "I'm a very competitive person, I hate not performing well.

"If you ask my family, I won't talk to them for a day and a half after something like that. It was tough.

"But after that day and a half, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and just focus on La Rochelle.

"I told myself I needed a big performance and to come back with a vengeance - and I think I did that.

"Obviously after (the highs of playing for Ireland in) November, Leinster was quite a poor game for me and I was disappointed with how I played in that.

"But I feel like I did bounce back a week after against La Rochelle and put in some good performances after that. My position is in no way secure but I feel I am doing all I can."

Putting the injury, and Ulster's disappointing European exit behind him, Stockdale reiterated that his only focus now was the task ahead for Ireland in Paris.

"The first couple of days (of camp) I had a dead leg and couldn't train properly. That was frustrating," he said.

"It helped we were in Spain and it was sunny and there was a beach. It was frustrating but then when you get back into training you get focused on that, the task in hand now is France away in the Six Nations.

"You have to forget about Ulster and anything else, just focus on the big game.

"There's competition and rivalry in training, then excitement looking forwards to the game - and then perhaps some nervousness hoping everything goes right and we get our details sorted by the weekend."

Ireland's last visit to Paris featured some fairly controversial moments - most notably the heavy hits dished out on Johnny Sexton and Dave Kearney - but forwards coach Simon Easterby was not expecting a repeat.

Ireland felt that the referee Jaco Peyper let too many late tackles slide that afternoon, but Easterby said the side have every faith that Nigel Owens wouldn't be turning a similarly blind eye.

"No, we have to trust the guys in the middle and the fourth official, making sure we get the right adjudication," said the ex-flanker.

"The game every year is becoming critical of those players who go outside the law.

"It's not now possible to do certain things that you used to get away with when I was playing and that is for the betterment of the game.

"I am sure Nigel Owens and his team will have full control of that. We don't have any concerns about what is going to happen out there and we trust the guys in the middle will be able to control things and see everything."

Belfast Telegraph