Jacob Stockdale: Ulster wing reflects on his ‘toughest year’ of his career ahead of his first clash with a South African URC team

Jared Wright
Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale is looking forward to his first game against a South African team in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and reflects on the ‘toughest year’ of his career.

Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale is looking forward to his first game against a South African team in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and reflects on the ‘toughest year’ of his career.

The 35-Test cap international has endured a horrid run of injuries in recent seasons, keeping him sidelined for Province and country.

First game against South African opposition

This weekend, against the Bulls, he will face a South African side for the first time in the URC, a box the speedster is eager to tick off.

“I still haven’t played a South African team in the competition,” he said ahead of the clash with the Bulls at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.

“I’ve missed all the games so far, between injury and not being available. I am hoping to try and finally tick that box against the Bulls.

“Having the South African sides on board has added a new bit of spice to the league. I think they bring a really good variety, something a bit different and a bit fresh. Having a new brand of rugby within the competition is only a good thing.”

Looking ahead to the challenge the Bulls pose, Stockdale expects Jake White’s side to be much like a Test team.

“I would imagine it will be very much like playing an international team. They are going to be very physical, and they have very dangerous back three players and centres,” he said.

“With all four South African teams, if you give them a bit of space and a bit of time on the ball, they are going to punish you.

“We are getting into the business end of the season now, and there are some big games ahead, starting with this weekend. We’re chasing the DHL Stormers now and trying to get that home semi-final, so every point is massive.”

‘Toughest year’

Stockdale enjoyed success early on in his career, earning his Test debut under former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

The 26-year-old scored seven tries in the 2018 Six Nations, setting a new record in the competition in doing so and was named the Player of the Championship.

However, a serious ankle injury in 2021 sidelined him for 12 months.

Stockdale describes that period as the ‘toughest year’ of his professional career, although he did celebrate some personal milestones.

“That was the toughest year I have had as a player. It was incredibly frustrating because it was a pretty unusual injury, and not many people have rehabbed it or experienced it,” he explained.

“Then I came back for a couple of games and injured my other ankle, so I would say 2022 as a whole was a pretty frustrating year for me.

“Outside of rugby, though, it was brilliant. I got married and had a baby. My daughter is eight months old now. My life has changed incredibly with becoming a dad, a lot more than I expected it to.”

Ireland’s Grand Slam

Stockdale earned the last of his 35 Test caps for Ireland in 2021 against Japan.

Since then, Andy Farrell’s side has shot to the top of the world rankings and claimed as Six Nations Grand Slam this year.

Commenting on the success of the team, the winger is hoping to force his way back into the squad through his performances in the URC with Ulster.

“The lads have been flying, performing really, really well. I suppose it’s not necessarily a bad thing that you can’t get into the number one team in the world!” he said.

“It’s an exciting place to be in that squad. I am very appreciative to Andy Farrell for giving me the opportunity to be there and trusting in me.

“I just want to show what I can do in an Ulster jersey over the next couple of months to try and get back into that green jersey come the World Cup.

“I am a lot tougher now than I was a couple of years ago, and I think that’s only going to benefit me moving forward. I am feeling good and excited for what the next couple of years hold. There’s lots for me to aim for.”

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