Stock­dale hints at bright fu­ture for Ire­land be­yond 2023 bal­lot

The Guardian - Sport - - Rugby Union Autumn Internationals - Sean In­gle

Ire­land re­main out­siders to be awarded the 2023 World Cup when the 31 mem­bers of the World Rugby Coun­cil meet on Wed­nes­day, but on the ba­sis of their 38-3 pum­melling of South Africa their fu­ture on the pitch looks in rude health, re­gard­less of what hap­pens in the se­cret bal­lot.

The man­ner of the record vic­tory against the Spring­boks on Sat­ur­day was im­pres­sive enough, but it was the fact so many in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers left their mark that really had the Ire­land head coach, Joe Sch­midt, purring.

The start­ing XV con­tained only eight of the side that de­feated Eng­land at the end of the Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship this year, with the back line par­tic­u­larly youth­ful. Yet Ja­cob Stock­dale, who was mak­ing his first Ire­land ap­pear­ance at home, scored a try, as did An­drew Con­way, who was earn­ing his fourth cap, on the other wing. Mean­while, the debu­tant cen­tre Bundee Aki also made his mark, tak­ing out the gi­ant Spring­bok prop Coe­nie Oosthuizen, who was carted off in the sec­ond minute, and then look­ing lively with the ball.

As the 21-year-old Stock­dale ad­mit­ted, the vic­tory has whet his ap­petite for more in­ter­na­tional rugby. “I wish there was a game to­mor­row,” he said, smil­ing. “Well, my body doesn’t, but my head does.”

It has been quite some rise for Stock­dale, given he only made his Ulster de­but in Jan­uary 2016, but he has a wise head on young shoul­ders. Af­ter­wards he ad­mit­ted he still had much to learn and said the re­sult was largely down to Sch­midt and Ire­land’s de­fence coach, Andy Far­rell.

“There was a big fo­cus in train­ing this week with Andy on how the wingers, in par­tic­u­lar, had to be really nailed on in our de­fence, and I think that we really did that,” he said. “We knew they were go­ing to come with big ball car­ri­ers and that we had to get in their face and be phys­i­cal. The only way to com­bat phys­i­cal­ity is to be phys­i­cal your­self and I felt we did that really well and that re­lent­less pres­sure really paid off.”

Devin Toner be­lieves Ire­land ben­e­fited from head coach Joe Sch­midt’s fo­cus in train­ing as they put an Ir­ish record score past the Spring­boks

Stock­dale was par­tic­u­larly proud of emp­ty­ing Dil­lyn Leyds in a tackle, forc­ing a turnover and earn­ing a loud cheer from the crowd. “It’s some­thing I’ve really tried to fo­cus on,” he ad­mit­ted. “It’s some­thing that Andy has really helped me with; try­ing not just to sur­vive in de­fence but to dom­i­nate. I feel I’m start­ing to do that.”

As the Ire­land sec­ond row Devin Toner ex­plained, the hours of work that Sch­midt has put in on the train­ing ground meant the new play­ers set­tled in quickly – and ef­fec­tively. “You hear it time and time from us – it’s all about prepa­ra­tion,” he said. “Ev­ery­one from one to 23, and even the lads who weren’t in the squad from 24, 25 and 26 who were train­ing with us were ready at the drop of the hat.”

Toner also paid trib­ute to Iain Hen­der­son, who had one of his best games for his coun­try, call­ing him a spe­cial player. “He gives con­fi­dence to the guys around him,” he said. “You know he’s go­ing to get over the gain­line. You know he’s go­ing to smash them in the tackle.”

That much was ev­i­dent when he ran over the South Africa cap­tain Eben Etze­beth in the first half. “When he was com­ing through we didn’t call him man-child for noth­ing,” Toner said. “He’s a mon­ster in the gym and he’s a mon­ster on the pitch. It’s great to see him be­come the player he had the po­ten­tial to be.”

Toner also said he hoped that World Rugby would “vote with their heads” and choose Ire­land to host the 2023 World Cup de­spite a tech­ni­cal re­port that favoured South Africa and France over them.

And Ir­ish rugby was given some hope as the for­mer Aus­tralian Rugby Union head John O’Neill gave his back­ing to their bid – and claimed that Aus­tralia’s two votes might yet prove de­ci­sive. “There will be hun­dreds of thou­sands of visi­tors go­ing to which­ever coun­try it’s lo­cated in, so it has to be an ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time,” he said.

“If I was look­ing at it say­ing the quan­ti­ta­tive be­tween Coun­try A and Coun­try B is there or there­abouts, OK then, what is the best rugby ex­pe­ri­ence? I would be vot­ing for Ire­land on that ba­sis.”

Bren­dan Mo­ran/Sports­file/Getty Im­ages

Ire­land wing Ja­cob Stock­dale can­not wait for his next taste of in­ter­na­tional rugby

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