Irish hero says All Blacks are beatable at World Cup

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    18 Dec 2018     Getty Images

Stockdale told The Guardian that New Zealand were still the side to beat at next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan but Ireland had won two of their last three games against them.

"They have that World Cup history and experience but I don't think there's the fear of New Zealand like before. We're in a good position. We're very confident," he said.

Winning the World Cup was a massive goal for Ireland and Stockdale said any player in a Tier One nation who said he wasn't thinking about the World Cup would be lying.

Stockdale, who admitted to missing Ireland's first win over the All Blacks in Chicago because he was at a play with a girlfriend of his at the time, was a key man in last month's win.

"It was an incredible experience to be involved in that game. To be the first team to beat the All Blacks in Dublin, and to get a try, was special," he said.

It came after first five-eighths Johnny Sexton looked to the open before switching direction to set second five-eighths Bundee Aki free. Aki's long pass found Stockdale moving at speed to kick ahead, collect the rebound and beat the defence to score.

"It was a set play Joe [Schmidt] ran back in 2013. It didn't work but that's what Joe does. If it doesn't work he'll put it into some big Filofax of plays. He puts it on the back burner for a couple of years and then brings it out again. This time it worked.

"The biggest part of that plan is making sure their 15 goes so you can isolate that corner. You want their forwards to be chasing round the corner and then you step back inside. It wasn't set for me to kick it but I saw Ben Smith rush up and that space opened up. So I chipped it through. Luckily that one didn't get charged down," he said.

Stockdale said his feeling after scoring to take the side to a 16-6 lead had been tough to describe.

"It's probably a mixture of blind panic and excitement. And, really, disbelief. But that match showed how our defence has got a lot better. Over the last couple of years Andy Farrell's come in as defence coach and he's been fantastic."

Stockdale said Farrell and former international and New Zealand player Jared Payne at his Ulster side, had also helped his own defensive development.

"There's also more belief. When we lost to them in 2013 [24-22 in injury time] there was the feeling we were holding on and trying not to let them score. This time we were trying to attack all the way through. We went after them with confidence. That's down to the coaches and senior players. They made a big impact," he said.

Winning in Chicago in 2016 had given senior Ireland players a boost while younger players took heart from beating New Zealand's Under-20s earlier at the world youth championship.

While none of New Zealand's Under-20s were playing in Dublin, those from Ireland took on the confidence knowing that if they played well they were more than capable of being the All Blacks.

Schmidt's transformation of Ireland had been crucial.

"He forces you to be that one percent, two percent better each time you step onto the field. He makes sure everything you do as a team, and individually, is excellent – whether cleaning out a ruck or making a pass.

"He's created a culture where I go into training and I know my passing needs to be nailed on and I need to be hitting rucks. I also need to know my role inside out because he just doesn't accept anything else," he said.