As Ja­cob’s star shines bright for club and coun­try,

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT -

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.

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