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We will all take great pride in Stu's bow: Les Kiss

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss says it will be a proud day for the province when Stuart McCloskey makes his Ireland debut against England in the Six Nations tomorrow.

In the injury enforced absence of his provincial team-mate Jared Payne, the Bangor man has been handed a first cap by Joe Schmidt with Kiss praising the work of the coaches who have helped the player progress to the biggest stage.

"From our perspective, the excitement in the place is unbelievable," said the Australian who served as Ireland's defence coach before taking the reins at the Kingspan earlier this season.

"The players are over the moon for him but the coaching staff too because they've done such a brilliant job. It's a feather in the cap for the coaches.

"Clarkie (forwards coach Allen Clarke) saw him and brought him here, Doakie (head coach Neil Doak) has worked with him for a long time and then Joe Barakat has brought him on this season.

"One of our goals is to get guys into those jerseys so the first time is always a nice feeling and brilliant for us up here.

"There's a real sense of Ulster pride I suppose you'd call it. I'm an Ulsterman now so I've been feeling it too. I'm extremely proud of the lad."

From his first dealings with McCloskey, Kiss saw a player with international potential. However, he says it's the 23-year-old's willingness to work that deserves praise.

"My first 12 weeks here, I remember him playing and I couldn't not pick him," he said.

"I could see then he had the capacity for sure. You could see something but you see that a lot.

"It's up to the individual to put in the hours to learn what he needs to do to get to that level.

"You can find a flaw in anyone if you want to but he wanted to work hard and was very diligent.

"He got in front of the video and he's become critical for us.

"He's built his game nicely, he's developing beautiful skills with ball in hand but one of the big pluses for us has been his defence in our system."

With Payne such an important figure for Ireland without the ball, McCloskey will surely be tested defensively at Twickenham but Kiss has no doubts that the man who played scrum-half in his youth is ready.

"Defensively he's been brilliant all year," he said. "Between him and Luke (Marshall), they've built a beautiful relationship very quickly.

"Him being a solid defender allowed Luke to learn the 13 channel.

"This country has been blessed with good 13 channel defenders, Brian O'Driscoll was great and Darren Cave as well. Jared is like that, he's very important to what Ireland do but Stu will do his best to fill that."

One alternative midfield option for Schmidt could have been Keith Earls who is back in the frame after concussion.

While the Munsterman has stated a preference for playing centre in the past, he starts again on the wing tomorrow and says he is just happy to be playing again after an injury-ravaged spell.

"I just wanted to get my head right and get my body right," he said yesterday. "It doesn't bother me where I am.

"That ambition has gone now since I've come back.

"I'm just 100 per cent focused on playing rugby which I have been doing."

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