Stephen Ferris claims that Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey is can often be found wanting in defence, and that it is one of the main reasons for his lack of international caps for Ireland.
The 30-year-old has been a key player at provincial level over the last few years, with a superb assist to Luke Marshall for Ulster’s opening try in their victory over Connacht at the weekend the latest example of what he can bring to a team.
Stuart McCloskey is unique in an Irish context. His offloads and skill at 12 provides a spark and creativity which none of Ireland's options at centre are capable on such a consistent basis. In another era, he would have won easily over 40 caps at this stage of his career.
He is the closest player Ireland have to the likes Sonny Bill Williams and can provide the type of innovative attacking play that the team has lacked at times in recent years. Despite this, he only has six caps.
Stuart McCloskey : Questionable Defence?
However, Ireland have never had more options in the centre, particularly at 12. Speaking to Balls in association with Ladbrokes, Ferris believes his defensive attributes compared to the likes of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw works against him.
I can sort of understand the reasons why he hasn’t been selected for Ireland more than the six or seven caps he has to his name.
The reason for that in my opinion is that in defence he doesn’t make brilliant reads, come out and smash guys, make game changing hits or turnover the ball.
"He reads the shape quite well, but he never goes after it. I’m not sure that’s something that can be coached into because I’m sure he’s been told it many times in his career, but he still plays the way he plays.
"The way he plays is amazing, and when you’re able to offload the ball like that, you’re six foot four, 110kgs, you’re pretty quick and got really good skills, you walk into most international sides.
"It’s just very unfortunate for him that somebody like Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw play 12 and absolutely smoke boys in defence, whether that’s been against the All Blacks or playing against Fiji, or playing in the blue or green for Leinster or Connacht."
Despite his lack of opportunities when it comes to Ireland, Ferris doesn’t rule out McCloskey’s chances of a return to the Irish side if he was to have an outstanding season for Dan McFarland’s side.
"If I was picking the Irish side tomorrow, would he be in it? On current form, maybe yes. He should have a hell of a lot more caps than he certainly does.
I wouldn’t say the door is completely shut either. A big season in the white of Ulster and he could certainly put his hand up for an outside chance of going on the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Unfortunately for McCloskey, his strengths have become his weakness when it comes to Ireland. He has arguably been the country's most consistent inside centre for the past five years, but the fact that he is an out and out 12 has perhaps worked against him.
The desire for versatility has been seen under Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell. Aki, Henshaw, and Chris Farrell can cover 12 and 13, with Henshaw even filling in at full-back.
Should his frustrations with Ireland continue, Ferris questions if McCloskey’s future lies in Ireland.
"If I was Stuart McCloskey, I would probably be playing in France earning half a million a year.
"I know he hasn’t been to a Rugby World Cup, he hasn’t won a Six Nations, but I think there comes a certain time in a player’s career when he thinks ‘you know what, I’ve been banging this drum for too long now and it’s not getting me anywhere.
"We all sort of said after the Joe Schmidt era when Andy Farrell came in that this could be brilliant for Stuart McCloskey. It hasn’t been, it's been very much the same repetition of things happening."