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Stuart McCloskey on a mission to land Six Nations call

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 13/11/2015

Making strides: Stuart McCloskey, pictured in the win against the Dragons, has been a shining light for Ulster this season
Making strides: Stuart McCloskey, pictured in the win against the Dragons, has been a shining light for Ulster this season

For the man producing the most eye-catching displays in Ulster's backline this year, talk of a promotion to the Ireland set-up is hard to avoid.

Stuart McCloskey has forced his way over the gainline with such regularity over the first seven games of the season that it's inevitable he will have forced his way onto Joe Schmidt's radar too.

The increasing hype is not lost on the 23-year-old and he admits that he harbours hopes of making it into this year's Six Nations mix.

"You see a few bits and pieces, you can't avoid it really, but obviously there's a lot of players looking to break into that team as well," said Ulster's Kingspan Player of the Month.

"For me, it's all about kicking on here. You want to keep yourself in contention at least for the Six Nations. Getting in that squad, it's obviously a goal but if it doesn't happen then it's my goal for next year."

While Test honours seem sure to arrive in the near future, for the meantime McCloskey was enthralled watching the game's best centres at the World Cup.

"The New Zealand centres…they're just unbelievable," he said.

"Sonny Bill Williams, you're sometimes scratching your head at the things he can do.

"It's fractions, maybe half a per cent, that really push you on at this level but that's where I want to get my game."

The admiration for the code-hopping star is no surprise given his own fondness for an offload but, with the skill allegedly a dying art in the Irish game, McCloskey is determined to keep it as part of his arsenal as his career progresses.

"Hopefully it's never coached out of me but I know the guys are happy to see it here at Ulster," he continued. "I think my offload percentage is fairly high so as long as it stays like that then I'll keep the coaches happy."

Rather than Irish green, or indeed all black, the colour on McCloskey's mind last weekend was yellow.

After an early sin-binning in the win against Newport - his first yellow card since he picked up two in the same game for Dungannon back in his club days - there was genuine worry that his transgression would scupper the attempts to secure a first away victory of the season.

"Watching is so frustrating; it's just weird," he said.

"I thought the ref was a bit quick… he maybe could have at least looked at it. I didn't think I had to get out of the guy's way really.

"The lads really stuck at it. We were just three points down when I was off and three points up when Rory (Best) got his yellow so I was pretty relieved.

"Backs against the wall, sometimes that's when we're at our best."

Victory in Wales set the side up for their first Champions Cup contest of the season, the visit to Oyonnax tomorrow, and McCloskey admits there was a sense of relief at breaking the away day hoodoo just in time.

"France isn't the sort of place you want to be going without a win so it was great to get that last week and holding out at the end was good for us," he added.

The meeting with the unfamiliar Top14 side should put McCloskey in direct opposition to Eamonn Sheridan, a product of the Leinster Academy who landed in the Alps via spells with Rotherham and London Irish.

What is sure to be a physical confrontation has the 110kg second five-eighth relishing the battle.

"He's a bit older than me so I wouldn't have met him in 'A' games or anything but I've heard how good he is," he said.

"He did good things at London Irish and he's obviously going alright this year too.

"It'll be a big clash between the two of us whenever we do meet. It should be a good one."

Belfast Telegraph

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