Although Jacob Stockdale has been near synonymous with Guinness Six Nations excellence in recent times, the Ireland flyer might just admit to a shred of trepidation as he prepares to dip his toe into uncharted waters.
Stockdale, one of the most devastating wingers around, will play knockout rugby for Ulster for the first time in his career as his side lock horns with Irish rivals and defending champions Leinster in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup on Saturday.
The stage couldn’t be more perfectly set, with the two provinces going head-to-head at the Aviva Stadium – the home of so many cherished Irish Guinness Six Nations memories – and Stockdale is primed to let loose in spectacular fashion.
A bona fide Guinness Six Nations star
There’s little doubting the 22-year-old’s credentials.
In the 2018 Championship, the record books got a hearty introduction to Stockdale’s name, the Ireland star becoming only the second player in the history of Rugby’s Greatest Championship to score multiple tries in three successive games.
He went on to cross the whitewash seven times – a Championship record – and having helped fire his country to a Grand Slam, he was suitably named the Player of the Championship.
No surprise then that Stockdale started every one of Ireland’s 2019 Guinness Six Nations matches.
Joe Schmidt’s troops may have relinquished their crown to the irresistible Wales but Stockdale still made his presence felt.
He went over in Ireland’s 22-13 victory over Scotland in Round Two and repeated the trick as the Irish defeated Italy 26-16 at the Stadio Olimpico in Round Three.
Stockdale also made more metres than anyone else during the entire Championship (395) and also beat more defenders (23) than any other player.
“He can score from anywhere”
The jet-heeled Ireland ace is also the joint leading try-scorer in the 2018-19 Champions Cup, sharing top spot with none other than international teammate and Leinster man Sean Cronin – both players have gone over six times so far.
The Irish Guinness Six Nations stars that will line up against Stockdale in Leinster colours aren’t the only ones wary of his talents but full-back Jordan Larmour is acutely aware that he and his teammates will need to be at their best if they’re to negate the Ulster speedster’s threat at the Aviva Stadium.
“Training against him; he’s a quality player. He’s world class and some of the tries he scores are a bit of a joke,” said Larmour.
“So we are going to have to have all hands on deck when he gets the ball and just be ready for anything they come with.
“His skillset is world class, so you give him the ball in a bit of space and he can chip it over you, go around you, or go through you because he’s a big man.
“He can score a try from anywhere, so we have to be ready for that.”
Readied for a new challenge
Of the 249 players to make 25 or more carries in Champions Cup pool stage, Stockdale had the best average gain-per-carry rate of 10.6 metres.
This weekend, he’ll chance his arm and attempt to translate that success to the knockout stages.
“It’s a big game ahead and it’s fun playing against guys that you play with quite a lot, so it’s going to be a good game,” said Stockdale.
“This is going to be my first experience of knockout rugby with Ulster, so I’m dead excited to get involved in this game. It’s new territory for a lot of us.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of experienced guys in there as well – there’s very few men on the earth as experienced as Rory [Best] is and he’s massive in that sense, and he brings that cool head whereas everyone else is exciting.
“It doesn’t really feel like an away game because we’re playing at the Aviva, which is another bonus.
“It’s going to be a big day and hopefully, it’s going to be a good day as well.”