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Ulster ace McCloskey relishing his chance to get rare back to back starts with Ireland

 

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Stuart McCloskey calls the shots at Ireland training yesterday ahead of their meeting with the USA Eagles (INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

Stuart McCloskey calls the shots at Ireland training yesterday ahead of their meeting with the USA Eagles (INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Stuart McCloskey calls the shots at Ireland training yesterday ahead of their meeting with the USA Eagles (INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

For all the understandable focus on the four Ulster debutants when Ireland take on the USA in the Aviva Stadium tomorrow evening, the visit of the Eagles feels like a significant cap for one of their considerably more experienced provincial colleagues too.

For the first time in his career, centre Stuart McCloskey will be starting back-to-back games in a green jersey. Indeed, prior to backing up last November’s run-out against Georgia with a start against Japan last week, one of Ulster’s key cogs had never featured more than once for Ireland in the same season.

Given that Andy Farrell and Joe Schmidt before him have had some combination of Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell available to them over the years, the Bangor man is not one to bleat about non-selection yet is relishing the opportunity to belatedly build up some momentum on the international stage.

“It’s great any time you get picked for your country but to get two in a row, it’s a first for me,” he said. “It’s one week on, a year off usually.

“It’s obviously difficult, you’d love to be getting consistent rugby but the guys that are there ahead of me have been doing brilliantly.

“You see Bundee and Robbie and they’re probably going to be the starting centres for the Lions so it’s not as if the competition hasn’t been good. Yeah, it’s difficult slotting in and dropping out.

“I think the level of training here when you’re in the team that isn’t playing really does help you coming back in. That’s helped along the way but obviously I’d have loved to have played a bit more.

“It’s good to get two weeks in a row and hopefully I can put a good performance in.”

And while it will be a fourth new midfield partner in six caps for the soon-to-be 29-year-old at the weekend, a lack of familiarity will be no excuse this time around.

The first time four uncapped Ulster players have been in the same Ireland match day squad since the visit to Canada in 2009, Nick Timoney, Robert Baloucoune, Tom O’Toole and James Hume will all make their bow in green, the latter doing so having impressed alongside McCloskey in the northern province’s midfield all season long.

“James has been probably one of Ulster’s most consistent performers,” McCloskey added.

“He’s been great all year.

“James will bring that great footwork he has, he’s got that power as well, and he’s underrated in the passing game as well.”

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Given what he has seen over the past 12 months, McCloskey doesn’t feel he has to shepherd his younger colleague along.

“I don’t think I’ll be changing the way I play at all really,” he said. “Maybe when James had one or two caps with Ulster, I tried to help him along with it but he’s had 40-odd games for Ulster now, he knows what the professional game is.

“He leads a lot of things, he’s quite a vocal guy.

"I won’t really be doing a lot different to what I did last week.”

While hardly an elder statesman himself, following on from Eric O’Sullivan’s debut earlier this year and the fact that Jacob Stockdale is still just 25, McCloskey recognises the importance of Ulster’s youth movement.

“It’s probably a testament to what Dan (McFarland) has done at Ulster,” he said. “There are a lot of young guys coming through.

“Mikey Lowry has been in the camp and he’s done really well, hopefully he’ll get his first cap in years to come as well. So hopefully we’re building something good there and it will come to fruition in the next few years.”


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