Jacob Stockdale reflects on the toughest year of his career – PlanetRugby

Ulster and Ireland winger Jacob Stockdale is looking forward to his first game against a South African side in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and reflects on the “toughest year” of his career.

The 35-Test cap international has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, both in the province and the country.

The first match against South Africa

This weekend, against the Bulls, he will face a South African team for the first time in the URC, a box the speedster wants to tick.

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

“I’ve missed all the games so far, between injury and not being available. I look forward to trying to check that box against the Bulls.

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

Looking ahead to the challenge posed by the Bulls, Stockdale expects Jake White’s team to be more like a Test team.

“I would imagine it will be like playing in an international team. They will be very physical, and they have three and a half players at the back, who are very dangerous”, he said.

“With the four South African teams, if you give them some space and time on the ball, they will punish you.

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

‘Hardest Year’

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

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

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.

“It’s been the hardest year I’ve had as a player. It was extremely disappointing, because it was a rather unusual injury, and not many people have rehabilitated it or lived through it,” he explained.

“Then I came back for a couple of games and hurt my other ankle, so I’d say 2022 overall was a pretty frustrating year for me.

“Aside from rugby, though, he was great. I got married and had a baby. My daughter is now eight months old. My life has changed enormously with being a father, much more than I expected.’

The Irish Grand Slam

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

Since then, Andy Farrell’s side have climbed to the top of the world rankings and this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam was announced.

Commenting on the team’s success, the winger hopes to get back into the fold through his performances with Ulster at URC.

“The boys have been flying, they’ve been doing really, really well. I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing not being able to join the first team in the world!”. he said

“It’s an exciting place to be on that team. I am very grateful to Andy Farrell for being there and believing in me.

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

“I’m a lot tougher now than I was a couple of years ago, and I think that will help me going forward. I feel good and I’m excited for the next two years. I have a lot to aim for.”

READ MORE: Andy Farrell: Tommy Bowe backs Grand Slam-winning coach to lead British & Irish Lions in 2025

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