European Champions Cup: Ulster coach backs Stockdale after crucial try fumble
Ulster coach Dan McFarland strongly defended Jacob Stockdale after the wing's fumble cost Ulster a potentially match-winning try in the 21-18 Champions Cup defeat by Leinster.
McFarland's side were 13-11 up early in the second half when Stockdale lost control of the ball after his break seemed certain to have yielded a try.
"I'm proud of Jacob. Jacob played a great game," said the Ulster coach.
"He's disappointed but that's not the reason we lost."
Stockdale, who was voted Six Nations player of the tournament last year, has scored a remarkable 14 tries in his 19 internationals and one of his touchdowns helped Ireland defeat New Zealand in Dublin last November.
The Ireland wing produced his trademark searing pace to burst past several defenders during his 44th-minute run in the European quarter-final and McFarland said there were few players who could have engineered such a chance.
"Downstairs I was asked the question four times, 'what about Jacob dropping the ball over the line?'.
"My answer to that is that there are not many players in the world, who can beat that many players to even get in a position where they put the ball down."
McFarland insisted that it was wrong to attribute his side's defeat solely to Stockdale's mishap.
"I'd say the key points in the first half when our collision work, our contact work, wasn't good enough. That's on me. I'm the coach of that area.
"What is it? Probably three millimetres off his fingers [when he loses control of the ball]. It's a small thing but there are so many other small things that could have sent the game in other directions."
Ulster's Ireland captain Rory Best was forced off early in the first half by an ankle injury and was on crutches at full-time in addition to wearing a protective boot.
"He's got ice on it now. We'll assess that over the next 48 hours and [then] let you know," McFarland told the post-match news conference.
Best could be a fitness doubt for the remaining games in this season's Pro14 with it not clear whether he will continue in the Ulster jersey next season when he retires from Ireland international duty after the World Cup.