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Ulster backline is simply the best, says Stuart McCloskey

Centre planning a power surge to silence the Scarlets

By Michael Sadlier

He had just seven minutes to make an impression and though the powerful gallop towards Treviso's try line was typical of Stuart McCloskey it still didn't end up with the desired result.

Instead, Ulster coughed up a penalty and folded their tents in their pursuit of a try bonus, last Saturday, though a rather embarrassing endgame then ensued when the Italians scored their own try with the clock already red.

McCloskey can now only mull over what might have been - "We probably left a point over there," he admits - but things have moved on towards the next challenge which comes tomorrow evening when the struggling Scarlets, who have lost their first two games, come to the Kingspan.

Sporting his off-field trademark of a reversed baseball cap, the powerhouse inside centre is in bullish mood about Ulster going three wins from three for the first time since season 2012-13

"They (the Scarlets) have a good backline but I'd say that on our day we've one of the best backlines in Europe.

"Of course, if our pack doesn't give us good ball we'll struggle, but if the boys up front give us the ball it shouldn't matter what they (the Scarlets) do," the 24-year-old states.

He certainly sounds up for it and, yet, just can't wriggle free of what happened when the sides met last season which resulted in Ulster losing on both occasions.

They first succumbed at the Parc y Scarlets last September and McCloskey played in that game, and actually place-kicked, in the 23-12 defeat.

Though a bad result at least McCloskey continued to make steady progress in Ulster's number 12 shirt which ultimately led to him winning his first, and as yet only, Ireland cap the following February in the defeat to England at Twickenham.

"I actually think the score flattered us a bit," McCloskey says of the game with the Scarlets a year ago at a venue where Ulster have had precious little joy in recent years.

"It was during the World Cup period and we were short a lot of players.

"I think it's a different test this time as we have a lot of internationals back and the team are going well having nine points from the first two games.

"Oh and I won't be kicking," he adds as if to further Ulster's hopes of securing a positive outcome.

"I didn't play that second one here," McCloskey mentions of Ulster's 21-20 defeat last February, at the Kingspan, which proved to be another damaging outcome for their failed plans to finish in the PRO12's top two.

This season they can't afford to even flirt with such profligacy at home and much has already been made of slip-ups made in the last campaign coming back to haunt Ulster at the business end of the season.

For all that, though, McCloskey is just about the here and now.

"I don't think any of us look back at previous results.

"This week at home we're looking to put in a performance and if we play well we know we can win," he maintains.

Though, naturally, heaping praise on the Scarlets' impressive backline and, in particular, the centre combination of Wales internationals Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies, McCloskey reiterates that Ulster can more than hold their own when it comes to the talent they can put on display between numbers nine and 15.

"Our backline will all be internationals as well so it will be a good match-up.

"And if I play well then that will be as good if not better than them hopefully. That's the way I look at it, I don't fear coming up against players like that."

No sense in shying away from the challenge.

Belfast Telegraph


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