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Ireland just need a small tweak to fire again at Rugby World Cup, assures Stockdale

Pushing on: Jacob Stockdale during a gym session in Japan
Pushing on: Jacob Stockdale during a gym session in Japan
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When a winger begins his Test career with a flurry of scores that would perhaps be better described as a blizzard, he can quickly find himself judged to a higher standard.

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So while two games without a try would hardly be constituted a drought for any other 23-year-old making his way onto the international stage, Jacob Stockdale admits it's been a source of amusement with one team-mate that he has yet to register at the World Cup.

The Ulsterman, who has been equalled on 16 Ireland scores by Rob Kearney after the full-back's three tries in Japan so far, understands the need for patience.

"Me and Earlsy (Keith Earls) have had a bit of a joke that neither of us has scored a try yet but to be honest, as long as we're winning and we're doing well I'm happy not to be scoring tries," he said.

"It's not something that bothers me. We obviously started really well against Scotland and I was happy with how I played.

"(Against) Japan, I didn't feel like I had a bad game but obviously it was a tough game to take just in terms of the loss. I thought (Ryohei) Yamanaka at full-back actually defended really well. He is a very good player, just one of those guys that is hard to get around because he is quite a big guy as well.

"I thought in the Japan game particularly, they defended really well as a team. I don't really feel like there is a marker on my head or anything like that. Then I wasn't involved against Russia so I'm just raring to go to hopefully get back on the pitch and be able to play this week against Samoa.

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"I've really, really enjoyed myself and just being in this environment at the moment and it's a pretty good challenge too."

That loss to Japan continues, of course, to have repercussions for Ireland. In an ideal world, they would have won three from three and been assured of their place in the last-eight already. Saturday's clash with Samoa could have seen front-liners put on ice for a quarter-final, not risked on a pitch that has cut up badly in the previous games held in Fukuoka.

As is, all of Joe Schmidt's big guns that sat out the game against Russia in Kobe are expected to be back. As head coach in waiting Andy Farrell reflected earlier, this is no game now for cotton wool.

Having been a regular ever since his debut against the USA back in 2017, Stockdale can count himself among that group whom Ireland will rely upon to finish off the pool strongly and secure a place in the last-eight.

"I suppose I forget about the fact that I am not really an experienced international rugby player in that sense," said Stockdale when reminded that it was only three years ago he was at the Under-20 version of this tournament.

"I am still one of the youngest players in the team. Me and Jordo (Jordan Larmour) are the two young lads I guess.

"But it's just about getting to know everyone a bit better and feeling a lot more comfortable in the group, which is awesome."

At tournaments such as these, momentum can feel both key and elusive, with Ireland still trying to recapture theirs after running aground against the hosts.

Given that their pool draw means playing one of the hot favourites in the last-eight, looking more like themselves against Samoa will be seen as important ahead of the All Blacks or South Africa even if it's only the bonus-point win that's imperative.

Stockdale believes the two will go hand in hand.

"We'd probably rather that it was secured by now but it's the nature of rugby and we're really excited to go into a weekend where anything can happen," he said. "All we can do is focus on playing Samoa and doing the best we can against them. Then, however the Japan v Scotland game works out we'll see where we're at.

"I think there's just a few things we need to sharpen up on. I don't think we're at panic stations or anything like that, you can see we're getting into our shape really nicely, there's just the odd pass not going to hand or maybe we're not making the right decisions so those kind of wee one-to-two per cent things are making all the difference and they're really easy to fix.

"We know how good we are as a team and we know our ability. Whenever we're switched on and raring to go, we can do that, you know change from one week to the next and there can be a dramatic change in a week. We know how good we are and how we can turn that around pretty quickly. It's not a huge foundational issue, it just needs a small bit of tweaking.

"To beat Samoa, they're a pretty good team in their own right, we'd really need a bonus point against them, so to beat them you have to put in a commanding performance anyway.

"If we do that and achieve the bonus point we need to get out of the group then we'll be in a good position."

Or, given the opposition in wait, at least as good as it could be.

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