Ireland's Jacob Stockdale named Six Nations Player of the Tournament

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Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale has reflected on “a truly memorable few weeks” after being named NatWest 6 Nations player of the championship.

The 21-year-old Ulster player scored a Six Nations record seven tries as Ireland secured their first Grand Slam since 2009.

Tournament organisers announced that Stockdale took 32 per cent of the public vote, well clear of his team-mate Conor Murray in second, while fellow Ireland players Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls finished third and fourth, respectively.

“It has been a truly memorable few weeks, making my first NatWest 6 Nations appearance, winning the championship and then going on to complete the Grand Slam against England,” Stockdale said, in a statement released by the Six Nations.

“Breaking the try-scoring record was the cherry on top!

“It’s an absolute honour to win the NatWest player of the championship, especially when you look at the amazing calibre of those short-listed.”

The previous record of six tries in one Six Nations campaign was jointly held by Shane Williams, Chris Ashton and Will Greenwood.

More than 78,000 votes were cast on a six-player short-list, with Italy full-back Matteo Minozzi taking fifth and France captain Guilhem Guirado sixth.

Stockdale, who only made his Test debut last summer, claimed try doubles in Ireland’s victories over Italy, Wales and Scotland, then added another touchdown during the Grand Slam-clinching triumph against England at Twickenham on March 17.

Stockdale joins previous Irish winners Brian O’Driscoll, who won it a record three times, Paul O’Connell, Tommy Bowe and Gordon D’Arcy.

Prior to Stockdale, the award was won for two years in succession by Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg.

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Eddie Jones retains RFU's backing despite England's dismal Six Nations

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Eddie Jones retains the backing of the Rugby Football Union despite England’s dismal fifth place finish in the NatWest 6 Nations.

Ireland were crowned Grand Slam champions with a conclusive 24-15 victory at Twickenham on Saturday that condemned the hosts to a third consecutive defeat and their worst tournament performance since 1987.

The review into a series of results that have plunged England into crisis began on Wednesday morning with RFU chief executive Steve Brown attending the initial meeting between Jones and his coaching staff.

As is customary after each tournament, Jones must present to the RFU board and also appear before the Professional Game Board, which represents the English game’s various stakeholders.

While mourning the collapse in results, Brown insists Jones remains the right man to lead England into the 2019 World Cup.

“Eddie and his coaches have my confidence and the measure of how good they are and can be will be how they respond to these tough times,” Brown said.

“The results in the Six Nations were not what we wanted, not what we expected and there is no attempt by us to dress this up.

“We wanted to do significantly better and we didn’t. We’re disappointed with the decline, no question about that. Nobody would want to go from winning the Six Nations to fifth.

“We will learn from this and make sure it doesn’t happen again. No one is patting each other on the back, they’re looking for solutions to put us back to where we were before.

Steve Brown

“We were motoring pretty well. We have hit a bit of a bump and now is the time to regroup, reassess and get back on track.

“It’s worth reflecting that Eddie has an 86 per cent win record with England. You don’t become a bad coach or team overnight. But we have to learn and have to improve.”

Brown rejected Sir Clive Woodward’s claim that England have stagnated and defended the decision to award Jones a two-year contract extension in January, stressing that the terms of the deal are subject to performance at the 2019 World Cup.

England’s record before the Six Nations stood at a remarkable 22 wins from 23 Tests only to fall to comprehensive losses to Scotland, France and Ireland with a summer tour to South Africa looming.

“Maybe we were not quite as good as our results were showing before, but we are not as bad as fifth in the Six Nations. That’s an important point,” Brown said.

“We’re hugely disappointed but confident in the ability to turn this around. These are the moments when you don’t knee jerk without the evidence and data. We go again and we will bounce back.”

England’s performance has renewed calls for Twickenham to centrally contract the players with players chief Damian Hopley stating it should be considered.

“People talk about central contracts in very binary terms, they describe one situation or another,” Brown said.

“What we actually have in reality is a sort of hybrid anyway, so there’s an element on central contracting that happens within that relationship when the players come into camp and into England space.”

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Joe Schmidt demands more from Ireland after Grand Slam success

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Ireland may have achieved only their third Grand Slam with a clinical Six Nations win over England but head coach Joe Schmidt said there is still a long way to go to the finished article.

The 52-year-old, who has masterminded a renaissance in a side that was demoralised when he took it over after the 2013 championship, said he was pleased with the blend of experience and youth that had shown few nerves and held England at bay.

For Schmidt it was mission accomplished for the Six Nations – he had guided them to successive titles in 2014-15 but never the Triple Crown or Grand Slam – with the 2019 World Cup the main target for him before he likely steps down.

“It’s incredibly hard to predict,” said Schmidt referring to the future prospects.

“They are growing and getting better and understanding more but there is still a long way to go for those players.”

Schmidt, who also has guided the Irish to a national record 12 successive Test wins and counting, said young players were standing up and proving themselves but the spine of the team was still the experienced hands.

“To be honest, we rely still on the same hub,” said Schmidt.

“Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray were immense today, CJ (Stander) and Peter O’Mahony were fantastic.

“The newish players though stood out as well.

“James Ryan is getting better all the time. Tadhg Furlong is still young for a tighthead, Andrew Porter coming on to lock the scrum down at only 21.

“Youthful enthusiasm is being tempered by the experienced guys who have been here before and that blend is working very well for us.”

His skipper, the grizzled hooker Rory Best, certainly fits into the “experienced guys” group but the 111-times capped 35-year-old wasn’t going to make too many long-term predictions either.

“I think it really depends,” said Best.

“We’re really happy with today. We wanted a Grand Slam and I think we’ll look beyond that at a later date.

“It all depends on how we kick on.”

Best, who is yet to sign a new contract that would take him through to the next World Cup, said the future did look rosy at the moment because the young were so willing to grow up quickly within the Test squad environment.

“The way the younger players have come in, and not just fitted in, but wanting to keep getting better,” said Best.

“As long as they keep that mentality and the guys who are a bit more experienced keep that ‘I want to keep going forward’ mentality, that’s all you can ask.

“We’ll not know until our next go in the green jersey but knowing the group, this is what we wanted but we’ll always want more because we’re competitive and we’re a little bit greedy.”

Best said their greed was exemplified by how they stuck to the task and scored a crucial try through prolific wing Jacob Stockdale in stoppage time of the first-half to surge 21-5 ahead.

“It’s our mentality to go and attack,” said Best.

“We want the ball, we want to keep the ball, and we don’t just want to get it off (the field). We’re fit, we train to play in those moments.

“But when you have momentum, sometimes either side of half-time teams can switch off a little bit and you can capitalise.

“While you’re going forward, while you have momentum, we knew we had to attack England today.

“That was following through on our mentality and what we had committed to all week.”

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