Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

JACOB STOCKDALE HAS had some big changes off the pitch recently, buying a house near Ravenhill and getting himself a dog.

The Hungarian Vizsla pup has been keeping him busy as he gets settled into a new season, but Stockdale is planning on everything being business as usual on the pitch.

Jacob Stockdale at Ireland training in Chicago yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 22-year-old has had a sensational time in Ireland colours so far in his career, with a strike rate of 11 tries in 11 games, including his record-breaking haul of seven scores in the Six Nations as Joe Schmidt’s team claimed the Grand Slam earlier this year.

“Eight in the Six Nations maybe,” Stockdale jokes when asked how he will go about beating last season’s exploits, but he is not a player who is short on belief.

His recovery from a hamstring injury delayed his start to the new season but already Stockdale has scored three tries in his three Ulster games and appears ready to spark fully into life this November.

“I’m feeling good,” said Stockdale in Chicago after being named in Ireland’s team to face Italy tomorrow. “I rehabbed the hammy and it feels pretty good, so I’m just eager to get going with this Ireland team and get stuck into the internationals.

“Coming back into the Ulster games, I felt I was moving really well, felt fit and strong so I was really happy with that because you never know when you’re doing the fitness by yourself if you’re up to the match standard.”

While he’s as aware as ever of the room to get better as a player – Schmidt’s demands are a constant reminder – Stockdale’s confidence in his ability is at an all-time high.

He approaches this autumn window in a very different place to the November Tests last year, when he was an outstanding prospect rather than a clear first-choice for Schmidt.

Stockdale in the gym at University of Illinois. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“This time last year, I was just trying to bust the door open for myself a wee bit,” says Stockdale. “I kinda achieved that last season and now I’m a genuine competitor for the starting position and I just want to put my name in the hat as much as I can.

“I want to make sure I don’t give the coaches any excuses not to pick me. This is the perfect opportunity to that, a Test match away from home against a Six Nations rival. It’s good to test yourself in these situations.”

Stockdale is on the left wing in an exciting Ireland back three for Saturday, with Munster’s Andrew Conway hungry to prove a point after an unlucky injury on the June tour of Australia.

It will be interesting to see how Stockdale links with fullback Jordan Larmour too, the pair of them looking like kindred spirits in their intent to attack.

“Actually, we were the two wingers on our Ireland U18 Schools team [in 2014], so we were,” said Stockdale.

“Jordan played a year up, he was like 16 or something, and I was on the other wing. It was the FIRA competition in Poznan in Poland.

“I scored a fair few that day but I can’t remember if he scored any, although I can remember being really impressed with him. He was 16 and tearing it up, I remember thinking that he was a guy that was going to be one for the future.

Stockdale and Larmour will be exciting in the back three. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Jordan’s got that electric footwork and he’s every defender’s nightmare one-on-one so it will be good to link up with him against the Italians.”

Stockdale and Larmour will be working off Joey Carbery at out-half for Ireland on Saturday, the Munster man having been handed the 10 shirt in the absence of Johnny Sexton.

“Joey has stepped up to the role really, really well,” said Stockdale. “When Johnny’s playing, he’s a very dominant character and he knows what he wants and tells people what he wants.

“Joey’s done that really well this week. He’s come in and stepped up and taken on that role really well. He knows his stuff and I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do the job this weekend.”

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