Stockdale hints at bright future for Ireland beyond 2023 ballot
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.”
Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale cannot wait for his next taste of international rugby