SIX NATIONS: Ireland's Jacob Stockdale knows this is a chance not to be missed

Jacob Stockdale was 12 years old when Ireland last achieved a Grand Slam in the Six Nations Championship.

Thursday, 15th March 2018, 7:30 am
Updated Thursday, 15th March 2018, 9:25 am

Now the 21-year-old Ireland winger will run out at Twickenham on Saturday looking to achieve rugby immortality with the class of 2018 by beating England.

Ireland have already wrestled the Six Nations Trophy from the grasp of the auld enemy - and Stockdale will receive a Championship winners medal on Saturday irrespective of the result - not a bad feat for someone playing in his first Six Nations championship.

The young Ulster star has already etched his name into the record books. His third successive try brace against Scotland in the 28-8 win in Dublin on Saturday saw him become the first Irishman to score six tries in a single Five or Six Nations championships.

Jacob Stockdale

It is now 10 tries from eight appearances for the three-quarter - by any measure that return remains remarkable.

The career trajectory for Stockdale has been simply amazing. The Newtownstewart born man and a former Wallace High School pupil has established himself as a fixture in Joe Schmidt’s first choice XV almost as soon as he had broken into it.

His ability to mix power running with unerring finishing has proved invaluable to Ireland’s title march, as has his uncanny aptitude for the interception.

He picked off one against Wales as Ireland finally put the Dragon’s flames out and against the Scots last weekend he ignited the Aviva Stadium by picking off another to open the scoring.

Jacob Stockdale

That third bonus point win over their Celtic cousins and England’s demise in France ensured Ireland clinched the championship with a week to spare - a massive nine points ahead of the faltering field.

But the championship is not enough and Ireland want the complete sweep - something only achieved twice by the men in green - in 2009 as the Six Nations and 70 years ago this week in 1948 in the former Five Nations.

Well established outhalf, Jonathan Sexton, who was on the periphery of the 2009 squad, highlighted on Saturday that he had never won a Triple Crown which reflects how few opportunities like this weekend come around.

And that is not lost on the young Stockdale who recalled watching the 2009 achievements on TV with some members of his family, and going “going mad” when Stephen Jones last gasp penalty attempt dropped short.

“Something said to me already throughout this campaign, just because this is happening in your first one, it is not going to happen 10 times over the next 10 years.

“They are rare opportunities and I am lucky to have it on my first one, hopefully there will be a few more in the next couple of years - but I need to make sure I do what I can to ensure I get this one first.”

Stockdale never imagined he would be in the same position as the Ireland team of 2009 this weekend. Indeed only two of that squad - captain Rory Best and Rob Kearney - remain in the current squad.

Having broken into the Irish squad last summer on the North America and Japan tour, Stockdale backed it up by starting against South Africa in the first of the November Tests, going to win his fourth cap against Argentina.

Now the dream continues

“Look it has been unbelievable, but it has been great, I have really enjoyed it and to be in the position we are going into Saturday’s game is incredible.

“But it is a huge challenge and we all remember what we did to England last year and denied them a Grand Slam in Dublin, although they still won the Championship.

“They will be really up for it, they are at home and they have lost two in a row, so we can expect a massive challenge.

“But we are ready too. We have prepared as usual and we know if we want to achieve that Grand Slam, we have to be better than we have been before.”

Stockdale took time out from his busy schedule this week to call into his adopted club at Lurgan yesterday.

He is the ambassador of their mini rugby section, Lurgan Tigers, and there was some work to be discussed with some of the members.

“It has been great to be working with the Lurgan Tigers.

The club has been a great club to come to and it is important for me to be able to give back a bit in a sport that has been so good for me.

“I am getting plenty of support throughout the championship with messages of good luck before and well done after. It is great,” added Stockdale.

In terms of looking ahead, with a Rugby World Cup next year in Japan, Stockdale admits it is a goal for him to be there.

“Of course it would be great and I want to play at World Cup, but I am not getting too far ahead of myself. I am focused on the England game this weekend, then I will go back to Ulster and I want to contribute in getting them into a play-off and European Champions Cup rugby for next season.

“There are a few internationals between now and the World Cup, so I am just taking it game by game, looking to continue improving and learning.”