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Pundits And Coach Ponder Why Stuart McCloskey Has So Few Irish Caps

Pundits And Coach Ponder Why Stuart McCloskey Has So Few Irish Caps
By Colman Stanley Updated

Stuart McCloskey made his debut for Ireland over six years ago, when he was 23-years-old. It wasn't an 'ease your way in' cap, against the likes of Fiji in November, either. It was a Six Nations start against England..... in Twickenham.

Over the last number of years he has been Ulster's most consistent back - and often their most important - with a valuable combination of supreme ball-carrying and deft handling skills.

Since that day in Twickenham in 2016, Stuart McCloskey has won only five caps for Ireland. The question is how much of this is down to injury, the presence of Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, and Robbie Henshaw, or being unfairly overlooked?

His recent performance in Ulster's heavy URC opening day win over Connacht has reinforced his claim for a bigger opportunity with Ireland, and had pundits, and his head coach Dan McFarland, heaping praise on the man from Bangor.

"He certainly plays big for Ulster," said Bernard Jackman on RTE's Against the Head. "Because he has so few caps, maybe he doesn't feel the love or confidence of the Irish coaches, whether it's Joe Schmidt or Andy Farrell, so when he gets into camp it's hard to be himself.

"Judging him over six games is very little but it's probably a knock-on effect of the quality of competition - Chris Farrell, there are big wraps on Antoine Frisch.

If he finishes with six international caps, it's not fair value.

McCloskey's former teammate and centre partner at Ulster, Darren Cave, was in agreement with Jackman, but also questioned whether McCloskey's quietness on the pitch was a reason for his lack of international caps.

"The skill for that score was spectacular, but he has been doing that for Ulster for years. The one area I wonder - he was a lot younger when I played with him but he was a little bit quieter.

"Organisationally Bundee Aki, you can hear him through the ref mic. Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are great organisers, bringing people in around them.

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"I just wonder is that the thing that Andy Farrell maybe doesn't see in him.

Stuart McCloskey Excellence vs Connacht

17 September 2022; Stuart McCloskey of Ulster is tackled by Tom Daly of Connacht during the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and Connacht at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Dan McFarland also spoke highly of Stuart McCloskey and his performance on the weekend, but was quick to mention that there are world class options ahead of him in the centre for Ireland.

"In another man’s world Stu plays every game for Ireland in the last five years but it depends what you want and he offers so much.

To say he should be playing every week is also taking away from the guys that there is in that position - Ireland have got British Lions playing there.

“You could say he is unlucky that he is in a cohort of centres in Ireland that are playing at an unbelievable level. I’d love to see Stu wearing an Ireland jersey and I think he would be brilliant, he offers a slightly different dimension to other players,” McFarland added.

“I think one of the problems in the past was he was labelled early on as just being a dump truck up the middle of the pitch. He is ridiculously skilful, his ability to take the ball to the line and pull back those passes - he is one of the best around and I’m sure if his name was called, he’d do a great job.”

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