Ulster wing Jacob Stockdale hoped he’d done enough to earn his first British and Irish Lions call earlier in 2021, but the Ireland rugby star has emerged more resilient following the snub.
Jacob Stockdale concedes that he may not have been a popular pick to make this year’s British and Irish Lions squad, but that didn’t lessen the blow when he failed to make the cut.
His omission perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise at the end of a season in which he barely featured for Ireland and was the focus of an unsuccessful experiment at full-back.
Stockdale’s form with Ulster also wasn’t quite up to the electric standards to which those at Ravenhill have become accustomed, crossing for only three tries in 14 appearances in all competitions.
Indeed, it would have been difficult for Lions coach Warren Gatland to include Stockdale ahead of Duhan van der Merwe, Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit or Anthony Watson, who ended up forming the wing corps in South Africa.
“If I’m honest I was pretty devastated. Probably most people weren’t expecting to see my name there, I was but I’m a bit biased,” Stockdale said when asked about his omission.
“I was hoping that I had maybe done enough to be in with a chance of selection.
“There’s plenty more rugby to be played and massive opportunities. Every time you put on an Ulster shirt you hope to be playing for Ireland, and every time you put on an Ireland shirt you hope to be playing for the Lions.”
Gatland also notified more than 30 players that they were on his standby list should the squad require injury cover, though it appears Stockdale wasn’t among the recipients.
There’s still time for the County Tyrone native to break his Lions duck, and he’ll look to make up for his miss by ensuring he’s part of the selection that travels to Australia in 2025.
He exploded onto the professional circuit after making his senior Ulster debut in 2015, and it was only another two years until he won his first cap as an Ireland player.
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Stockdale enjoyed easily the best year of his career to date in 2018, when he helped Ireland win a Six Nations Grand Slam and broke the tournament’s try record with seven scores.
Almost exactly one year later, the then-22-year-old experienced an extreme low after fumbling a ball over the line when Ulster led provincial powerhouse Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
The Northern Irish side went on to lose 21-18 and look back on that result with despair, but the experience of dealing with the criticism and trolls that followed has transformed Stockdale.
“It’s funny, when something bad happens you hear people go ‘I’m glad it happened to me’, I’m not to be honest,” he said.
“I would have liked to have scored that try and pushed us on into the semi-finals. That being said the amount of resilience I learned coming out of that was massive for me, in terms of dealing with trolls, upset and being able to bounce back whenever you don’t feel that confident.
“A couple of days after the game were really tough for me. There were pages of ‘we hate Jacob Stockdale’, all the usual stuff to be honest, but it was just something that I have to learn to deal with.”
Stockdale was introduced to the elite standard so young that it’s easy to forget he’s still only 25, with time on his hands to correct any bad patterns that have emerged in his play.
Simon Zebo’s return to Munster will add to the competition for a place on the wing in Andy Farrell’s Ireland XV, while Ulster team-mate Robert Baloucoune is gaining momentum as a future international star.
Many fans may judge Stockdale harshly given they’ve already seen signs of weakness, but the speedster can only hope to use those struggles as an aid to improve in the long run.
Farrell appears to have the player in his immediate plans after naming him in his provisional 50-man squad ahead of the autumn internationals, where Stockdale hopes to show Gatland and the Lions what they missed out on.