Six Nations: Another first for Ireland’s rising star Jacob Stockdale

Jacob Stockdale
Jacob Stockdale

Jacob Stockdale will add again to his rapidly progressing CV tomorrow when he makes his Six Nations debut with Ireland in Paris against France.

Head coach Joe Schmidt has kept faith with the Ulster winger having started him in both Ireland’s key November Guinness Test series games against South Africa and Argentina.

Jacob Stockdale

Jacob Stockdale

It will be Stockdale’s fifth cap and ensures the 21-year-old’s remarkable rise continues.

Having broken into the Ulster set-up in 2015, Stockdale is now almost one of the first names on the team sheet.

He made his Ireland debut last summer on the tour to USA and Japan, where he earned two appearances.

But the big breakthrough came when he was named to started against South Africa in the opening November Test series - scoring on the occasion.

Stockdale has made 13 appearances with Ulster this season and scored eight tries - there was a point when he was averaging a try a game.

And that form continued with Ireland, scoring four tires in four appearances.

A disappointing performance from Stockdale during Ulster’s walloping by Leinster in Dublin in the New Year, led to some criticism.

However, the former Wallace High School man was still a work in progress and openly admitted that game was the worse of his career to date.

“I have never hidden from the fact that I am working on the defensive side of my game,” said Stockdale.

“Joe gives you work ons and I will continue to work hard to improve my game.”

Stockdale’s performance against South Africa as he made his first Ireland home appearance certainly ended any concerns about his defensive abilities and that coupled with another fine display against Argentina as Ireland completed the Autumn Test series with a clean sweep of wins, had him already a favourite to start in the Six Nations.

Schmidt stayed loyal to Stockdale and a number of other players in his selection yesterday ahead of the opening game against France in Paris tomorrow evening.

Leinster lock James Ryan will make his Six Nations debut along with Connacht centre, Bundee Aki.

Ryan, who made his Ireland debut in the summer before playing for Leinster, is selected in the second row ahead of Devin Toner.

Aki made his debut in the autumn win over South Africa.

Cian Healy is preferred to Jack McGrath and Josh van der Flier replaces the injured Sean O’Brien in the back row.

Loose-head prop Healy retains his place having played in the last of the autumn internationals against Argentina, with McGrath returning to the match-day squad in place of the injured Dave Kilcoyne.

The back-line shows two changes from the team which defeated the Pumas as Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls, who were both unavailable, come in to replace Chris Farrell and the injured Adam Byrne.

Henshaw renews his former midfield partnership with Aki, the ex-Connacht teammates having previously played together in the victory over the Springboks.

Flanker Van der Flier gets the nod ahead of provincial colleague Dan Leavy, with another Leinster player, Rhys Ruddock, among coach Joe Schmidt’s casualty list.

Rory Best will again captain the side at hooker.

But his Ulster teammate, Rob Herring, who was his number two during the November Test series, has been overlooked with a resurgent Leinster Sean Cronin reinstated.