Ulster Rugby: Stuart McCloskey aims to impress in starting role
Young centre Stuart McCloskey will make his first start for Ulster tonight when Mark Anscombe's men face Scarlets but, far from merely soaking up the experience, he already has his sights set on more provincial caps.
Ahead of the visit of Simon Easterby's side, he commented: "It's a great chance to get my first start but now I just need to try to make an impression.
"The Six Nations and a couple of guys getting injured has given me a chance and now I need to set down a marker so that when they're back, I can still get involved with the squad for the big matches coming up."
"I'll have a few mates there and my mum and dad too, so it's special in that way, but it's important to put in a good game."
Deputising at inside centre, McCloskey – a member of the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy –already got a significant taste of the action when Irish international Luke Marshall was forced from the field as early as the 21st minute against Dragons last time out, but his earlier than expected arrival from the bench did not faze him in what was his first Ulster appearance.
"It all happened very quickly so I didn't really have the chance to get too scared. As soon as you get on it's just like playing any other game of rugby," said the Ulster Ravens regular.
Facing the challenge of stepping up to PRO12 level, the 21-year-old is similarly unperturbed: "It's more physical, it's faster and there's a step up but it's maybe not as big a step as people think. I'll just try and play well and show the coaches what I can do and that I can play at this level."
The Scarlets will represent a healthy challenge after a strong run of results has lifted them up to sixth in the standings, but McCloskey stresses that Ulster's form has also been formidable of late.
"They haven't lost in five but we haven't lost in longer than that, especially at Ravenhill. If the team performs well then hopefully we'll get the win," he said.
"We have to try and push on to get that home semi-final in the PRO12, so it's an important game."
And what will be on his mind when he lines up to field his first Ulster kick-off?
"Don't drop the ball. That's always a good start."