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Stuart McCloskey gets his kicks from Ulster's physical style

By Michael Sadlier

Published 29/10/2015

Job well done: Stuart McCloskey took over goalkicking during Ulster’s injury crisis but has now handed back the duties
Job well done: Stuart McCloskey took over goalkicking during Ulster’s injury crisis but has now handed back the duties

First up, let's deal with the goalkicking. For the first three games of the season, Stuart McCloskey was Ulster's go-to man when it came to trying to plant the ball between the posts.

Injuries had kept Ian Humphreys and Sam Windsor out and then a groin issue for stand-in out-half Peter Nelson meant that he had to be careful so, in rather straitened circumstances, placekicking responsibilities were handed over to McCloskey.

More renowned as a powerful and destructive runner, the 23-year-old centre really didn't make a bad job of it - even though there were some understandably wayward shots - and the final tally saw him land three penalties and five conversions during his time at the kicking tee.

"It was just okay and I did a job," McCloskey said ahead of tomorrow's trip to Munster with more than slight embarrassment at the subject matter. "I think I was all right."

At least the burden has now been lifted from him which must be a relief as McCloskey can focus on his own game.

And he can certainly play with his trademark wrecking-ball runs designed to make gainline busts and either set up quick recycled ball or use his notably deft offloading skills for supporting players.

"Actually, I wasn't worrying too much if I wasn't getting kicks and it didn't get to me as it's not my primary job," he stated.

Fair enough, and as for the main job? Two tries in five appearances is a pretty decent return but perhaps of more importance have been his 51 carries and 14 defenders beaten.

Ulster - as was so clearly seen last week in the victory against Cardiff Blues - are using McCloskey's bulk as a reliable means of smashing first-up tacklers.

And at around 6ft 4in and weighing in at about 17 stone, but blessed with pace and skill as well as power, you can understand the plan.

"Obviously I have to try and beat defenders and get over the gainline," said the former Bangor Grammar pupil who has most of the attributes to make further progress in the modern game's ultra-physical midfield.

"And I think it shows when guys like myself get over the gainline, or guys like Nick Williams do it, as that can make it a lot easier for everyone else to score tries."

His try last Friday brought Ulster their bonus point in the 24-17 victory, and though it was by no means a consistent performance from the home side, McCloskey seemed to cause mayhem when he had the ball.

"I think there was one I got which was about two metres out and I was driven back a metre," he insisted as a counter to all the praise.

He has no fear of going to Thomond Park, having won there in May 2014 when a shadow side - McCloskey was in his debut season and making his second start - turned Munster over and he was in the team which lost by a point last November when Humphreys missed a last-gasp kick to win.

"It (Thomond Park) doesn't really hold the same awe that it used to," he stated with candour while also brushing off any notion that having a third different midfield partner in the starting side this season - Darren Cave is expected to start - is somewhat unsettling.

"So hopefully we'll go down there and get the win," McCloskey, who will make his 25th appearance, added while also dismissing the theory that Ulster should be overly concerned at their form away from the Kingspan.

There is no evasion when it is pointed out that inter-provincial clashes tend to get players noticed in regard to national selections and with McCloskey's star on the rise - he has already featured for Emerging Ireland - he accepts that much can be achieved by showing up in these games.

"You've just got to put yourself out there and if you're playing well then the national selectors will take note," he concluded.

No better time than now to set out his stall, but without the goalkicking.

Meanwhile, Munster have been dealt yet another significant blow with the news that Felix Jones has been forced to retire due to a neck injury.

The Ireland full-back suffered his latest setback against Glasgow Warriors four weeks ago and was advised to hang up his boots by doctors.

Boss Anthony Foley has moved to recruit Argentina's Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino on a short-term contract, while the Belfast Telegraph understands former Ulster flanker Sean Doyle is on the way as cover for Peter O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell.

"It is unthinkable to believe I will never play another game of rugby," 28-year-old Jones said.

"That feeling of walking out in front of a packed Thomond Park is something I will never forget. To accept I will not play with my team-mates again is beyond upsetting."

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