There can be no disputing that the pressure is mounting on this Ireland squad ahead of their final Pool A game with Samoa next weekend.
Ireland’s all-conquering 2018 followed by a topsy turvy 2019 ensured that pressure was on Joe Schmidt’s side before the World Cup had even begun.
Jacob Stockdale burst onto the scene during Ireland’s most successful ever calendar year announcing himself as a try-scoring sensation.
However, the flying Ulster man has found himself under intense scrutiny in recent months. While Stockdale is electric going forward, question marks have been raised over his defensive capabilities.
The Lurgan native revealed earlier today that he sought advice from senior player and fellow winger Keith Earls before this week’s Russia game.
“I was chatting to Earsly (Keith Earls) before the Russia game and he was saying about how much pressure he felt in 2015. This time around, he’s not letting that get to him. He’s just going out and enjoying his rugby. That’s kind of what I took from that.
“You get really wound up about not putting in the perfect performance or not having the perfect game every week. That pressure can build to a point where it takes control of you, or you can just go out and enjoy your rugby and be confident in your ability.
“If you play to the game plan that the coaches and the leadership group have created, nine times out of 10 that’s a much better way to do it.”
While there is obviously internal pressure on this Ireland squad from Joe Schmidt, Stockdale believes the departing head coach strikes the perfect balance in both piling it on and taking it off.
“It’s amazing how much pressure one man can put on an entire team, but it’s brilliant what he does. Whenever you’re off, he’s a bit more relaxed and you’re able to chill out a bit more. I think he gets a really good balance in his coaching style.”
Ireland opened their campaign with an impressive win over Scotland, however, they fell to a giant-killing defeat the following week against Japan and backed that up with an unconvincing win over Russia on Thursday.
While the dip in form adds to the already intense pressure this squad faces, Stockdale remains upbeat, claiming the mood in the camp is still largely positive.
“I think the mood has largely been pretty positive. Obviously, it was a pretty disappointing result against Japan and the days after that were tough. But you have to accept the reality of where you are and all we can do now is to try and do our job to make sure that we secure qualification in the pool.
“But yeah, the mood’s been largely very good. After the Japan performance, guys wanted to right a few wrongs and we trained really hard.”
Stockdale was rested for Ireland’s game with Russia meaning he is yet to blow the cobwebs off from that Japan defeat.
The winger admits he spent the next day licking his wounds but found solace in returning to training as well as motivation in slaying the demons of Shizuoka.
“I’ve experienced a few losses in an Ireland shirt and they don’t get any easier. It was incredibly disappointing. You don’t expect to be feeling that way after your second Rugby World Cup game, or I didn’t anyway.
“The next day you feel sorry for yourself and you lick your wounds, but the day after you have to start training again. You can’t be lying about moping – you have to get on with it. It was a tough couple of days but I always find it’s easier once training starts again. It gives you something to focus on and motivate yourself and put all the rest behind you.”
While many are claiming that Japan provided the blueprint to shutting down Ireland in last week’s game, Stockdale believes there were many other mitigating factors that contributed to their loss.
“I don’t know if it’s as easy as that. There’s a lot more factors there, like a home World Cup and a really passionate crowd. There’s a lot more than just doing analysis to beat a team. I thought they played well and we didn’t match it. That’s the nature of rugby – it’s not just that if you do your analysis you’ll beat somebody.”