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Ireland's identity crisis | 'Stockdale comes across as pretty sensitive'

The Irish Daily Star’s Kieran Cunningham and Examiner’s Tommy Martin joined the Sunday Paper ...

Ireland's identity crisis | 'S...

Ireland's identity crisis | 'Stockdale comes across as pretty sensitive'

The Irish Daily Star’s Kieran Cunningham and Examiner’s Tommy Martin joined the Sunday Paper Review on Off The Ball to discuss Jacob Stockdale and his form for Ireland.

After a poor performance from the whole Ireland team against France, further criticism has been heaped onto the shoulders of Stockdale, who is struggling to find his way at fullback.

In a poorly performing team, the 24-year-old’s standout moment in the loss to France was his inability to secure the ball at the back, which ultimately led to the penalty try in the second half.

Cunningham believes that the intense scrutiny is getting to the 30-cap winger-cum-fullback.

“I met Jacob Stockdale once for an interview, and I found him quite an interesting guy,” Cunningham said. “He comes across as pretty sensitive.

“He had that extraordinary season, a season like nobody else has had in the professional era - and suddenly, when things weren’t happening for him, he got criticism online, so he shut down his Twitter account.”

The discussion came in response to Brendan Fanning’s article in the Sunday Independent, which mentioned how Stockdale was unable to shake off his poor performance against Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter final.

Where does Stockdale fit in?

In the article, the performance was described as something that “should take a week to get over”, but for Stockdale, it “nearly broke him”.

Cunningham believes that this shows the difficulty that Stockdale has with taking and learning from criticism.

“There is this thing now, where does he fit in?” Cunningham said.

“Is he a fullback, is he going to be a wing? They are trying to find a way to get the best out of him, because on his day, as he has shown, he can be devastating.

“Even he had to deal with all the hype and expectation going into the World Cup, that all the players had, but there was more expectancy on his shoulders because of what he did in the Grand Slam season.

“I think now the next two or three years are critical in his career; how he bounces back from this.”

Stockdale vs Italy Jacob Stockdale of Ireland is tackled by Abraham Steyn of Italy during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Due to current restrictions laid down by the Irish government to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to adhere to social distancing regulations, all sports events in Ireland are currently held behind closed doors. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland's greater identity crisis

Stockdale’s struggle with form and difficulty finding his position reminded Martin of the form of Simon Zebo playing in France.

Similar to Zebo, Stockdale does have a natural flair that can make itself evident under the right conditions.

Martin believes that the inability to make use of players like Stockdale and Zebo has caused an identity crisis in Irish rugby.

“How do we get this talent and make it flourish?” Martin said.

“As I was reding [Fanning’s article], I kept thinking about Simon Zebo and the situation we have now.

“We have got this guy over in France, scoring tries in a European Cup final, and can’t play for Ireland or doesn’t get in the Ireland team.

“It feels to me that the Irish team and Irish rugby, there is a bit of an identity crisis around it now.”

Other countries have a clear structure and identity, whether it be a physical, dominating style like England, or a skilful, flair style in New Zealand.

Martin does not see the Irish identity in the current side.

“It seems to me that we are not big and strong enough to play the power game, and we are not skilful enough to play an offloading, running, skilful game,” Martin said.

“Similarly, with the mavericks and the talents, it is clear from what you hear from people involved in the Joe Schmidt era that the likes of Simon Zebo did not fit into that mould.

“It all fits into this thing; what are we about, what is the identity of this team?

“Are the likes of Stockdale and Zebo going to be a part of that?”

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Brian O'Driscoll Champions Cup England France Ireland Jacob Stockdale Kieran Cunningham Leinster Simon Zebo Tommy Martin Ulster