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How Stewart Moore's 13-year-old Ulster fib was exposed on senior debut

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Academy centre Stewart Moore, who made his debut for the senior side in Saturday's pre-season defeat to Gloucester, is used to feeling a little young at Kingspan Stadium.

Having only left school earlier this year, and being the only first-year Academy man to feature in the game, the recently turned 19-year-old would have been the most youthful player in an inexperienced panel if not for the presence of schoolboy winger Aaron Sexton.

No stranger to the home of Ulster Rugby, Moore first ran out onto the hallowed turf 13 years ago, a moment recalled the evening before the game when the club's skipper Rory Best posted an image of the occasion on social media.

The side's official Twitter feed got in on the act later that night, posting a picture of the matchday programme where the young Moore said his fascination with all things Ulster began after attending the famous 33-0 Heineken Cup victory over Leicester Tigers two seasons before.

Only the more eagle-eyed supporters noticed the discrepancy. Back in 2005, the now 19-year-old's age was given as eight.

A typo? Not in so many words.

"My dad had to fib about my age to get me in there," he explained following his debut. "That was 12 years ago and I never thought I'd see the day where I was running out there again as a player.

"It was a proud moment for me and my family, definitely."

But what of his family's decade-old fib being exposed by none other than the Ulster and Ireland captain?

"He got me a few more followers," Moore laughed. "I enjoyed that."

Having enjoyed his first run out with the senior side, where he played for 50 minutes having started alongside Darren Cave in the midfield, he admits he still feels there's plenty more to learn.

After finishing up at Ballymena Academy not long before pre-season began, Kingspan Stadium felt like school all over again.

"It's like another A-level. It's been tough. I never thought coming into pre-season that I'd have so much to learn and there's a lot more learning to do," he said.

"It's not a seamless transition at all and the intensity is crazy. I think I've dealt with it okay and now I want to push on and learn more day by day.

"It's a long old season and wherever I can learn, I want to do that."

With work-ons having become the phrase-du-jour in Irish Rugby during the Joe Schmidt era, Moore has clear ideas on the areas of his game he feels need the most developing, citing the step up in the sheer size of his opponents as a reason for devoting plenty of practice time to his distribution skills.

"A lot of the time you can turn into a carrying centre and I know from training now that I won't be a carrying centre," he said.

"I have to work on my passing. Passing definitely, the kicking and the timing as well."

In fellow centres Cave and Stuart McCloskey, he has found two willing mentors to show him the ropes.

"Cavey has been brilliant on and off the field," Moore enthused. "He just drills that detail, detail, detail. It was good to have him inside me (against Gloucester). He shouted at me a few times but that's how it is when you're young. He's been there by my side and teaching me all he can defensively and in attack too.

"Stu coming through the ranks shows you that you don't have to come through the system. In pre-season, you can see how much skill and detail he has.

"You might watch him and think he's just a big carrier but he has all the tools in the book. He's taken me under his wing a bit so he's certainly someone I look up to, Cavey as well."

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