When Jacob Stockdale burst onto the senior international stage last year during Ireland’s summer tour of America, it was immediately clear that the 21-year-old had the potential for a bright future.
Having impressed for the Ireland U20s, with 11 tries in nine appearances, there was much anticipation when the big winger made the step up to the senior ranks.
Bringing with him an impressive try-scoring record, there was hope he might be able to become a reliable source of tries for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Little did anyone believe or expect, however, that the rate at which those tries would come would be as prolific as they have been.
With 12 tries from ten appearances and a whopping seven in the recently concluded Six Nations, it is now clear that Ireland has one of the most exciting young try-scoring talents in Test rugby today.
Much has been made of the exploits of New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane this past year. The 21-year-old burst into the All Blacks’ line up at the end of 2016 and he got straight to the task of scoring tries, his first coming against Italy during the November Test series of that year.
In his 13 caps to date, the explosive winger has amassed a total of 11 tries from his place out on the wings and has quickly become the talk of international rugby, with many believing he could go on to become one of best in the game.
Now, however, following Ireland’s Grand Slam winning Six Nations and Stockdale’s Player of the Championships performance, there is now competition for Ioane for the status of most dangerous and prolific try-scorer.
So evenly matched in relation to age, size and career progression it becomes easy to compare the two young wingers.
Both are 21 years of age, though Stockdale will turn 22 in April while Ioane has to wait until next March to do the same.
Both weigh in at 102kg and differ in height by a mere half an inch, with Stockdale coming at 6′ 3″ while Ioane stands 6′ 2.5″.
Both are explosive and devastating in attack.
With their international records almost neck and neck, efforts to definitively separate the pair cannot even be found at club level.
Ioane has dotted down some 23 times in his 60 appearances for Super Rugby side Blues, a rate of once every 2.60 games, while Stockdale has managed 36 tires in 85 appearances for Ulster in the PRO14 and Champions Cup, that being once every 2.36 times.
Much like Wales’ George North battles with Australia’s Israel Folau were celebrated in the media during their tussles during the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2013, it seems that a similar fate now awaits Stockdale and Ioane.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan looks set to be the stage where the pair will become one of the big sub-plots of the tournament.
Having reached number two in the world rankings following the assured displays in the Six Nations, there is a growing hope and expectation that Ireland can finally deliver on their potential when it matters most.
Having yet to reach a World Cup semi-final, the Championship in Japan next year is where fans expect that uncomfortable reality to be changed, with some believing Ireland are now ready to finally fight for world glory.
Having gotten the 111-year-old monkey off their back, that being Ireland’s first ever defeat of New Zealand in 2016, there is now a belief within the Irish setup that the All Blacks are there to be challenged.
If both sides navigate the group stages and quarter-finals as expected, they could well come face to face in either the semi-finals or potentially the final.
With all eyes on Ioane and Stockdale, this could become of the great battles of the tournament, with each man looking to do their part and secure international honours, all the while leaving the media and fans to conclude just which man is the best.
Before then, however, the pair may well face off when Ireland welcome New Zealand to Dublin during their 2018 November Test series, a chance for both sides to compare themselves to what could be their biggest competition ten months later.