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Young Stockdale happy to study Ulster's senior stars

By Jonathan Bradley

Just as Jacob Stockdale was feeling comfortable in his surroundings, the most frustrating of injuries struck. The talented youngster began the season in the Ulster team and, even with the threat of international stars soon to return, looked set for a extended run in the side.

With Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy on the sidelines with injuries of varying length, the 20-year-old admits joining them in the treatment room with a toe injury came at the most inopportune of times.

"It's very frustrating but it's a long season," he admitted. "It's just a tear in the ligament on the inside of my toe. I picked it up during the Treviso game going in for a tackle but fortunately it's not too serious, I should be back in a couple of weeks.

"It's always tricky. I broke my toe on the other foot two years ago and that was about 12 weeks. It's a case of everything goes through the toe. It's just managing it right and making sure you don't rush back too early."

With Les Kiss at the helm, Stockdale has every reason to be optimistic of getting more chances to impress given the coach's faith in youth.

"One of the fantastic things about Kissy and this coaching staff is that they have no qualms about playing who's in form. That's really exciting to see.

"Saying that, when you have All Blacks, internationals, Lions in front of you, they're going to have priority. You look at that backline and you wonder how am I ever going to get a game but at the same time, in terms of training, it helps massively.

"Every day I have guys around me that have so much experience. With all that knowledge around you it really helps bring you along quicker as a young player."

If anything, the short time away from the game has provided time for reflection on his rapid rise through the ranks.

The Ireland under-20 international was speaking at Queen's ahead of their Rugby Fest on October 5, an event that will be headlined by a resurrection of the varsity game between themselves and University of Ulster.

Just a year ago Stockdale was registered to Queen's himself and a year prior he was on the university's Upper Malone pitch almost leading his Wallace side past the vaunted opposition of Methody in a Danske Bank Schools' cup semi-final.

Now, as an established member of the squad, the transition from fan to player is a jump to which he has adjusted.

"Sometimes when you look back, it's unbelievable how quickly it's all happened," he said. "Just how far it's been. There's been a lot of hard work and there's a long way to go still.

"If I wasn't playing rugby, I'd just be at uni being a normal student. It's become the norm which is something I didn't expect. When you first come in, it's a bit weird and you think it's always going to be like that. As a child, growing up in Ulster, this was something that I always dreamed about. I mean, watching Ulster is what I always did and if I wasn't playing I'd still be there in the stands."

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