Ireland rugby: Dan McFarland says Andy Farrell will be monitoring Jacob Stockdale form

Jacob Stockdale scores a try in Ireland's Grand-Slam clinching win over England in 2018
Jacob Stockdale was named Six Nations player of the tournament in 2018 when he scored seven tries as he helped Ireland clinch the Grand Slam
Investec Champions Cup – Ulster v Toulouse
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast Date: Saturday, 13 January Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen live on BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app from 19:30 GMT, with live text updates, report & reaction also available on the BBC Sport website & app.

Ulster coach Dan McFarland believes Jacob Stockdale’s return to form means Andy Farrell will be closely monitoring the wing’s displays over the next 10 days as the Six Nations draws near.

Wings Mack Hansen and Jimmy O’Brien will miss the tournament although James Lowe may return to action this weekend.

Ulster face Toulouse and Harlequins in upcoming Investec Champions Cup games.

“I’m sure Andy Farrell will be looking at these games very closely,” said Ulster coach McFarland.

“I’m not going to second guess Andy Farrell. Jacob will know well, it’s extremely competitive.

“James Lowe is obviously a left-footed left winger. He’s the incumbent there and it’s up to Jacob to make sure his form is high, which he has been doing, to make sure that he’s competitive in there.

“I know that Jacob will be desperate to get out in these next couple of games to demonstrate in the highest arena at club level that he’s the man for that job.”

Stockdale missed out on recent World Cup

Stockdale starred in Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam campaign in 2018 when he was named player of the tournament after scoring seven tries.

Injuries and a loss of form subsequently led to him losing his place in the Ireland squad but after missing out on the recent World Cup, Stockdale’s career appears to be back on an upward trajectory, with him scoring six tries this season, including a touchdown in the win over Leinster in Dublin on New Year’s Day.

“He’s been very focused around what he’s been trying to achieve,” added McFarland.

“We’ve seen some brilliantly counter attack from him. His ability to beat people and putting pressure on players defensively. He’s worked very hard on his game there and he’s been doing a good job. He’s obviously got a good left foot.”

Stockdale will be hoping to help Ulster make it four wins in a row when they face five-time European champions Toulouse in Belfast on Saturday evening.

Ulster's Iain Henderson tries to get to grips with Toulouse star Antoine Dupont at Kingspan Stadium two seasons ago
Antoine Dupont’s brilliance helped end Ulster’s Champions Cup hopes two seasons ago

This sides’ last European meeting was a two-legged last-16 game two years ago when Ulster earned a sensational 26-20 away win in Toulouse, only to be unhinged at home by the brilliance of Antoine Dupont as the French giants progressed to the last eight thanks to a nail-biting 30-23 victory.

“He [Dupont] ruined our night more or less on his own with a brilliant display of kicking and a couple of breaks that led to tries,” recalled McFarland, who said that he was equally impressed with the scrum-half star’s actions off the pitch.

“I leave the stadium pretty late obviously because I’m chatting with people I’ve got to chat to and he was still signing autographs for young Ulster supporters.

“He could have packed his bag and gone straight back to the team hotel. That’s awesome.”

And with Dupont joined by a host of other stars in the Toulouse line-up, the Ulster coach admits his side will “need to be on the money” against a side that last month earned a 47-19 away win against a Harlequins side who currently sit second in the English Premiership table

However, Ulster’s recent turnaround started on the same weekend when they defeated Racing 92 31-15 at Kingspan Stadium.

McFarland hails impact of fit-again Reffell

Since then, the Ulster squad has been bolstered by the availability of Sean Reffell for the first time since he sustained an ankle injury against Benetton last season.

The former Saracens flanker excelled in the United Rugby Championship wins over Connacht and Leinster over the festive period and McFarland hailed his recent contribution.

“It will have been so frustrating for him not to be out there but he’s a head-down, work-hard guy.

“There are lots of things you can achieve when you are injured and he’s gone about that diligently.

“He’s come back and I wasn’t afraid at all of throwing him back in as soon as he was ready, and he was magnificent in both games.

“There are some players when they get on the pitch, they just don’t hold back. It’s everything.

“You are almost having to drag them off the pitch at the end because they are so exhausted. They have spent absolutely everything. He’s one of those players.”

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