Ireland’s latest rugby sensation Jacob Stockdale almost walked away from the game as a dejected teenager, his former school coach has revealed.
Small for his age and languishing in the third team at Wallace High School Lisburn, the Six Nations’ record-breaking try scorer needed plenty of encouragement to keep his dream alive.
However, a sudden growth spurt changed everything and the talented winger has now written himself into the record books less than a year after making his senior international debut.
On Saturday, the 21-year-old became the first player to score seven tries in a Six Nations championship, and the first player since the First World War era to score more than one try in three consecutive championship matches.
Ireland’s 24-15 victory over England secured only their third championship Grand Slam.
Wallace school coach Derek Suffern is confident his former charge will keep his feet on the ground and enjoy a glittering international career.
“He did have his doubts whenever he wasn’t growing and in first form he was small although he was quite strong. But he didn’t grow and he did nearly quit. We just tried to keep encouraging him and to keep him going.” Mr Suffern said.
Earlier this month, the Ulster winger was pictured in the News Letter supporting his father. Northern Ireland Hospice chaplain Graham Stockdale, at a fund-raising event for the charity.
“I think he’s pretty well-grounded – from the parenting that he’s had and the schooling that he’s had – but he hasn’t had things easy,” Mr Suffern said.
“He hasn’t always been winning games and he hasn’t always been selected. I think he will continue to work hard and I really expect him to kick on from here.
“In school he played a lot of B team rugby and played in our thirds, but he had a growth spurt one summer and then he never really looked back. He’s now comfortable in his situation and he just seems to be thriving on it now. He’s only 21 so he’s got the world ahead of him now.”
Despite Stockdale’s undoubted potential, his former teacher said it was still a “big surprise” to see him reach the top level so quickly.
“When he takes it to that stage, where he’s playing for Ireland and he’s scoring tries for fun, he really has topped it.
“He seems to have a knack of being in the right place, even with Ulster. He certainly knows how to finish now as well. He always had that pace and that quality about him, but he has added a bit of class now too. His kicking game has come on massively. “He just seems to be taking his opportunity which is fantastic for somebody so young. It’s brilliant to see.”