Jacob Stockdale is hoping to carry his Junior World Cup form for Ireland U20’s into the new season with Ulster.
The 19-year-old had endured an infuriating season before heading to Italy for the World Cup where he shone as Ireland finished seventh.
“Last year was a bit frustrating and in the latter part of the season I got a lot of injuries,” explained Stockdale.
“I broke my toe in January and my first game back after that I sprained my ankle (for Ireland U19s in France) so in terms of that some of the other guys got chances like Sam Arnold and Ross Adair and I felt that maybe if I’d been fit I’d have been there or there abouts.”
“I got a wee bit lucky at the start of the World Cup with the first match against Argentina. I was meant to be on the bench but Ciaran Gaffney got a bit of a niggle before the game and I was able start.”
“I played well and that kept me going for the rest of the competition and I luckily managed to put in some good performances.”
With it being a World Cup year Stockdale is a number of younger players in with a chance of playing in the PRO12 and he’ll get his chance to impress the coaching team when he is involved in Ulster’s opening pre-season warm-up game against Leinster on Friday night.
“This is my opportunity and this part of the season is something I’ve been aiming for since the summer’s junior world cup and I’ve been trying to get back fully fit,” said Stockdale.
“I recognise this is the time I want to at least get my first senior cap and get as many games as possible.”
Stockdale featured in both pre season friendlies last season.
“I got a full game against Exeter and then about half an hour against Leinster.”
“It was different last year as all the Irish guys were here as well so it was maybe harder to get on the team.”
“If I’m honest there were one or two chances where I could have been playing but I didn’t fully take my opportunities.
“I need to take every opportunity fully this time.
“These games are made to show for us to show what we can do to set down a marker.
“I think there is pressure on every player in the squad, the senior guys have to show they’ve got leadership qualities and the new guys as well they’ve got to earn it all.
“There is pressure but it’s made easier by the fact that everybody’s working hard to try and prove themselves, the senior players are really helpful.”
The former Wallace pupil can play either full back, wing or centre and also has a very good kicking game.
“My favourite position is 13 but I’ll play anywhere as long as I can get on the pitch, that’s what Doaky and the other coaches need from their younger players, versatility.
“It’s something (kicking) I’ve worked on but at the same time I love to run with the ball, it’s really depending on what position I play in terms of what I use more.”
As well as concentrating on his rugby career Stockdale is going back to university.
“I took a gap year last year and I’m starting in Jordanstown next month to do criminology so it’ll be tough enough balancing it but it should be ok.”
While the B & I Cup wasn’t a success for the Ravens as a team Stockdale put in some good individual performances.
“In terms of our team performances we were all quite disappointed about how our team performance went but in terms of my performances I was quite happy with how I played and I managed to pick up a man of the match award.
“I always felt I was putting my hand up to be looked at for the senior squad and I think I’m going to push a bit harder in terms of the A games and be more successful in the B&I Cup.”
Rugby was an easy choice for Stockdale growing up.
“I played mini rugby at Ballynahinch which is where I lived mostly when I was younger.
“My dad and my grandad both played for Ballyclare High School first XV, my grand-dad played for Ballyclare town’s firsts for many years so it’s always been the number one sport in the family.”
Stockdale has gone from watching Ulster on the terraces to running on with the team on match nights.
“The dressing room here is incredible and I’ve never experienced anything close to it.”
“I’ve come here since I was eight or nine and grown up watching the games and to actually get out on to the pitch to play, it’s a really different experience.”
Stockdale was one of a number of Ulster Academy players who lined out against Ireland for an open training session at the Kingspan during the Six Nations.
“That was my first training session back, it was a fantastic experience and you can tell when you’re training against them that they are some of the best players in the world, it was really enjoyable.
“I managed to avoid Paul O’Connell though I think I accidentally ran into Ian Madigan and we both hit the ground pretty hard but except for that I stayed out of trouble pretty well.”