Why Jacob Stockdale's display underlined Ireland's dominance in Scotland win
Ireland 27 Scotland 3
If you were to go in search of the root cause of Ireland's domination in their opening fixture of the 2019 World Cup, you could do worse than look at the evening enjoyed by their wing Jacob Stockdale.
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Over the course of his two and a half years in the international set-up, the prolific winger has been a near constant source of scores, already sitting in the top ten of the all-time Irish try chart.
Such was the superiority of the side's forwards against Scotland, any such heroics from their number 11 were not required.
First up, James Ryan muscled his way over following Iain Henderson's linebreak, then Rory Best wriggled over from a maul. To put the side in complete control, Tadhg Furlong barged through of a scrum that had the upper hand all throughout. Without completely disregarding the contribution of Andrew Conway in sacking Stuart Hogg behind his line for the latter, it was three scores created by the tight five and scored by the tight five.
"I was kind of wondering if I was ever going to touch it, to be honest," Stockdale chuckled of a game where Ireland's forwards and the boot of Conor Murray had them where they needed to be all night long.
"Whenever you've got a pack that's going forward and you've got guys like Iain Henderson running over people, it makes it a lot, lot easier because you're always on the front foot."
While, apart from one break that likely would have brought a score if he had any way of seeing the trail runner directly behind him, there weren't many scoring opportunities, Stockdale contributed notably in other ways.
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Ireland's plan was evidently to up their linespeed and deny the Scottish playmakers space on the ball. They don't come any more dangerous than Stuart Hogg but a man and ball tackle 35 minutes in shut down a rare Scottish attack.
With Tommy Seymour on the outside, a mistiming of the burst from the line would have led to a momentum swing just before the half.
"They're called 100 percenters for a reason, you have to be 100 percent, can't be 99," he said.
"They paid off today, which was pleasing, it was good to get a couple of good reads and make a few shots.
"But there's a lot more to your game than making a few tackles so it's the same whenever I say I've done well in attack and not so well in defence."
For Stockdale that's more often than not been the criticism from his detractors. Was there not special satisfaction in playing his part without the ball?
"We hear everything," he admitted. "We see everything. It's just one of those things. If you have a bad defensive day then people say you can't defend. You have a bad attacking game and people say you're not ruthless in attack. That's just part of sport. I kind of like it whenever people slagged me off because then I get to prove them wrong.
"That's kind of my mantra. Proving wrong and proving right is what I try to live by."
The challenges for Stockdale may not get any easier, his presumptive opposite number against Japan this weekend being the host nation's hat-trick hero Kotaro Matsushima.
In what was a scrappy affair when Japan were afflicted by opening-night jitters, Matsushima left the partisan crowd in raptures on Friday, his third try of the game clinching the bonus point in the 30-10 win. Indeed he would have had another if not for intervention from the TMO. The performance prompted Japanese coach Jamie Joseph to describe his back-three options as "Ferraris" with Matsushima's exploits nothing new.
Prior to Friday's display, he'd banked 16 tries in just 34 Tests, including six in his previous six games for the Brave Blossoms.
Stockdale himself has witnessed such form up close before, the second game of the tour to Japan two years ago seeing the Sunwolves flier score in a game he started in midfield.
"Playing against him two years ago in 2017 was my second Test," he remembered.
"He's a serious handful. He's got good gas - he doesn't look that big but he's very strong. He took his tries very well and was probably unlucky not to get a fourth.
"That's exactly how you'd like it to go as a winger in your first game in the World Cup. He's dangerous, so next week I'll definitely have to take a look at him and work out how to defend against him."
Replicating some of his work from yesterday would be a fine place to start.