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'A lot of countries would choose Stuart McCloskey in their Six Nations squad'

Ulster boss Dan McFarland said the centre is ‘really disappointed’ after missing out.

THERE WAS ALWAYS going to be a bit of venom in Stuart McCloskey’s carrying for Ulster against Bath yesterday evening, just a few days after his latest Ireland disappointment.

The 27-year-old was left out of Ireland’s Six Nations squad on Wednesday, the new era under Andy Farrell failing to end McCloskey’s international frustration for now, despite some strong performances for Ulster in recent times. 

Had Farrell opted to pick a squad of more than 35 players – Wales and Scotland named 38, while France selected 42 – McCloskey would likely have featured but he is competing against some real quality in Ireland’s midfield.

stuart-mccloskey-and-max-wright McCloskey in action for Ulster against Bath yesterday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Simply put, Farrell rates Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw as better inside centres at this point in time. Aki and Henshaw are superb players so that’s understandable, but McCloskey would back himself to deliver for Ireland if given the opportunity.

His wait to add to his three Ireland caps goes on for the time being, but he would have enjoyed delivering a solid performance as Ulster beat Bath 22-15 yesterday to secure a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final for the second season in a row.

McCloskey carried as powerfully as ever but also showed some nice handling, his slick skip pass for Will Addison’s second-half try the highlight in that regard, particularly coming a week after he had failed to pass with a big overlap outside him away to Clermont.

The imposing 6ft 4ins Ulster centre is now heading into a lengthy break from playing as several of his team-mates look towards Ireland camp and the build-up to the Six Nations. 

McCloskey will be standing by in the event of injuries in midfield but his head coach in Ulster, Dan McFarland, understands the Bangor man’s dejection.

“Stu’s really disappointed, as well he should be,” said McFarland. “He’s played really well, he’s a really good player. There’d be a lot of countries in the world who would choose Stuart McCloskey in their Six Nations squad.

“It just so happens that Ireland’s one of the best countries in the world and they have some of the best centres in the world, and they’re all fighting over those slots.

“Stu totally understands that in order to get in the squad, it’s not how good he is, it’s whether he’s better than the other people.

stuart-mccloskey-arrives-ahead-of-the-game McCloskey arriving for yesterday's game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Are you asking whether I’d have picked him in my squad? Yes. I really love Stu. I know Robbie and I know Bundee well, but Stu is one of my players. Of course I’d have picked him.”

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McCloskey and Ulster secured their Champions Cup quarter-final with a performance that featured plenty of sloppy moments but enough quality to overcome a weakened Bath team on a 22-15 scoreline.

A poor first half meant Ulster were level at 7-7 at the break but they started the second half with a bang and tries through Robert Baloucoune and Will Addison allowed them to stretch their lead.

“I reckon we didn’t play very well in the first half, potentially, because we overestimated our ability to control the game, which was confirmed when we scored reasonably early,” said McFarland. “It was very un-us. 

“Then, with their boring us to death with their kicking game and having an injury every 30 seconds it took the steam out of the game and the crowd gets frustrated, we get frustrated, which is compounded with us making elementary errors.

“I think we came out [for the second half] with more energy, more fizz. The crowd did a fantastic job, to be fair, in terms of trying to pick us up and drive it on, and there were a couple of occasions there when they really got going.

“We had a better kick-chase in the second half, more aggressive defence, and obviously we had a few opportunities to score in attack which was good. We still had the odd set-piece malfunction which didn’t really help but definitely better in the second half.”  

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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