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McCloskey eager for another Ireland chance after debut in London

The 23-year-old grew into the game at Twickenham.

STUART MCCLOSKEY HAD to wait more than 40 minutes for his first real one-on-one carrying opportunity on his Ireland debut at Twickenham last weekend, but he made it count.

McCloskey Bosh!

Bursting past Maro Itoje and then thundering into Ben Youngs with a bullbar of a left arm, the 23-year-old Ulsterman suddenly handed momentum to Ireland and just minutes later Conor Murray scored a try to bring them into a lead that didn’t last.

McCloskey was somewhat underused as a carrier in the first half, instead being asked to pass the ball on a number of occasions, though he says that was merely the run of the game rather than a reluctance to use him to strike.

“We had a few strike plays, but then the set-piece didn’t quite go to plan,” says McCloskey. “That’s the way games go sometimes.

“In the first-half we lost a couple of lineouts and they were the ones we were going to go direct, and then the ones we won we were going wide. But I don’t mind playing that game either.”

Indeed, the imposing centre is about more than pure size. While McCloskey says passing remains his biggest work-on before and after squad training sessions with Ulster and Ireland, he possesses a game that looks increasingly rounded.

The 6’4″ midfielder has a lovely offload in his armoury, though he is keen to dispel what he sees as the myth that he constantly offloads the ball. McCloskey says there have been no warnings to play it safe from Joe Schmidt and his coaches.

“A lot of people say I throw a lot of offloads, but I don’t throw as many as people say I do,” says the Ulsterman. “I threw two at the weekend, but with Ulster in 18 games I think I’ve only thrown 25 offloads.

Stuart McCloskey McCloskey grew into the game at Twickenham. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I suppose that’s a reasonably large amount, but there is a lot I’ve held when I could’ve thrown them.

“It’s all about winning that collision point first and then having a look and, if it’s not there, you can maybe bring the ball back in. If you don’t win the collision first, then there’s no point in offloading it, because you’re just putting crap on to someone else really.”

It’s a mature attitude from a player whose physical attributes, skillset and even mindset appear totally suited to Test rugby.

“Alright, a few improvements to make, I felt I built into the game okay,” is McCloskey’s own assessment of his first Ireland cap. “I got a bit more comfortable in the second half, but improvements to be made.”

He comments that he was “as comfortable as anyone can feel going out in front of 82,000 people for your first cap” with a smile and says he knew he had been there or thereabouts in terms of selection before Jared Payne’s hamstring injury fully opened the door.

McCloskey’s pathway into Test rugby is not quite typical. He played scrum-half and out-half in his final years at Bangor Grammar School, though a growth spurt as those school days came to an end saw him settle into the 12 shirt.

The Bangor man was not an underage international and left school for a degree in structural engineering and architecture at Queen’s University Belfast with thoughts of an Ireland career far from his mind.


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Stuart McCloskey, Ultan Dillane and Josh van der Flier with there first caps McCloskey with fellow debutants Ultan Dillane and Josh van der Flier. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, an excellent post-school season with Dungannon in the Ulster Bank League saw Ulster take interest and offer McCloskey a sub-academy place. He did a year there, moved into the academy full-time the next year, onto a development contract 12 months later and finally a senior deal the following season.

“It’s been pretty fluent once I got in there; it just took me a while to get into the whole set-up,” says the 23-year-old.

Certainly, plans for a professional rugby career hadn’t been part of his school days at Bangor Grammar.

“I think it probably grew on me more in that first year out of school, when I was playing well with Dungannon and people were sort of talking of me going into the academy and stuff like that, but I don’t think I ever dreamed of playing for Ireland four years later. So it’s gone really well.”

McCloskey’s late growth spurt is an important part of the picture here of course, though he is about more than pure brawn.

At 6’4″ and 110kg, he is of large dimensions, though the Ulsterman believes he can add further lean mass to his frame in the coming seasons, as long as those additional kgs don’t come at the expense of his explosiveness.

“Mum’s pretty tall,” says McCloskey of where the height and bulk came from. “Mum and Dad are both 5’11″, so I suppose my mum is tall. I think [the size] is just with the frame. Being 6’4”, 110 kilos is not overly heavy.

Ireland’s Stuart McCloskey McCloskey would love another cap against Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I wouldn’t see it as overly heavy. It’s heavy for a centre but if you saw a 6’4” back rower, you’d be like ‘that’s probably the right size’. So if I can keep my speed up I don’t see why not to put on more weight really, as long as it’s good weight.”

Shorter-term, McCloskey is simply hungry for another chance to wear the green shirt and perhaps show more of what he is about.

He laughs as he recounts that his version of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ didn’t go down terribly well when the Irish squad demanded the traditional songs of the new caps, but already he is feeling at ease in this group.

Aware that the Robbie Henshaw and Payne pairing is a favourite of Schmidt’s, McCloskey must wait to see if he will get an opportunity on home soil against Italy.

“I’d love to get my chance, but I don’t pick the team, so I’ll see how it goes.

“If you give any partnership time it’s going to improve, so if me and Robbie were picked together it would get a bit more cohesion as the games go on.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

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