As Jacob’s star shines bright for club and country,
THERE was a time when Simon Zebo knew what it was like to have Jacob Stockdale breathing down his neck.
Jacob’s ladder eyed a swift ascent: to break into the Irish Six Nations side at 23; however, the Munster man’s inimitable desire to spread his winger’s wings and move to Paris accelerated the plan.
So, at just 21, he won a Grand Slam and smashed an age-old championship record. His future was now.
Stockdale’s stockpiling of tries continued apace on Saturday, with another double ensuring he has scored in every round of Europe: six in five games.
There’s a great shot of his opening try in Kingspan, with Zebo standing forlorn in the background, but the proverbial torch had been long passed on before now.
Some may still pine for the thrill of Zebo being big in Japan, but once he boarded the ferry at Cork harbour, that ship sailed.
And so it is Stockdale who will continue to terrorise the world’s greatest defences. On Saturday, neither Zebo nor his half-time replacement, nor any of his flummoxed colleagues, could cope with the marauding man of the match.
Zebo, hampered by a dead leg all week in training, perhaps should not have played here, but he wanted to. He did score a try of his own, but it was a difficult afternoon for the erstwhile Irish international favourite.
His try-scoring gesture to young Mike Lowry in Paris hadn’t been forgotten in these parts and Zebo was cat-called nearly ever time he got theball.
Much of it appeared to be the usual pantomimic pillorying and any vague implication that it may have been otherwise will hopefully achieve clarification.
Ulster’s audience had enough to shout about in support of their side rather than wasting time on the opposition.
If Stockdale’s breathtaking brace wasn’t enough, the frightening emerging talent of the European debutant on the opposite wing, Robert Baloucoune (below), was sufficiently sublime to make the punters pout for more.
While Stockdale stole the show, his even younger Enniskillen sidekick delivered a raucous opening number with a try after just seven minutes, burning theFrenchcoverwith a weaving run from in to out.
Another star is born, indeed. Takes one to know one.
“Rob is an incredible athlete,” enthuses Stockdale.
“He has been pushing us a lot in training and he has been training really well.
“For him to get an opportunity like that is massive and they are the games you want to be playinginandhetookitreallywell.
“He scored a brilliant try and it was a proper finisher’s try.
“He’s got a lot of pace, but I thought his all-round game was pretty good tonight.
“It’s good to have another guy in there that’s doing really well. He’s a lot quicker than me, without a doubt.”
Dan McFarland could have couched a semblance of conservatism by re-jigging his back-line in preference for experience, but his faith in youth was ultimately justified.