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Stuart McCloskey: ‘It’s been pretty seamless for me’

Having been given an opportunity by Bundee Aki’s injury, the Ulster man thrived at inside centre against Italy

When the opportunity presents itself, the priority is to take it and that’s exactly what Stuart McCloskey did in Ireland’s shutout victory over Italy.

An injury to Bundee Aki gave him access to a starting role at inside centre and the Ulster man should be pleased with his response. Sometimes it can be a little trickier stepping into a team that has six changes and a lesser spotted midfield axis but McCloskey coped admirably, providing a nice foil for Robbie Henshaw in midfield and as a carrying outlet for outhalf Jack Crowley.

His strengths have been the carrying game and his ability to offload through the tackle, but he’s added to his game and that was very much in evidence on Sunday, notably in two brilliant long passes that put team-mates away; those took vision and execution, and both were spot on.

He was happy with his contribution. “I thought it went pretty well out there. There’s obviously things that you’ve missed and opportunities that you’ve missed out there but on a personal level, I got my hands on the ball a lot, got a few offloads, a few decent touches so overall pretty happy.”


He’s known for his offloading game and that too was very tidy. He explained: “It just sort of happened. It’s nice when it’s that dry out there, especially in February, if you get a day like that there. It was just how easy it was to hold the ball, how well the lads ran off me in general and how well the lines were to give me half-gaps to get my arms free.”

Italian demolition job with Gerry Thornley and John O'Sullivan

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He’s played with Crowley on a few occasions and finds it an easy fit. “I think maybe I started a warm-up game with him and we started the Australia game which was his first cap, so two or three times.

“He’s good, isn’t he? He went really well the last couple of games. He’s obviously still learning, he’s a young guy but some of his touches, the way he takes the ball to the line, the way he offloads is something slightly different to what Johnny [Sexton] brought; not that Johnny wasn’t incredible but it’s a slightly different way of playing.

“Obviously he’s had a couple of mistakes in there, and bits and pieces to work on, but you’re going to get that with someone who is 24-years-old. I thought he was very good today and very good last week as well.

McCloskey was asked whether Andy Farrell’s criticism of his performance against Samoa in August helped focus minds? “He’d mentioned it to me during the week, as kind of like a challenge to us I think. I don’t think that game was probably a fair reflection, it’s the one before we go to the World Cup and it was an absolute monsoon there.

“But we took that on board and I think we worked really hard together this week to try to get a bit of synergy between us and get on the same page. I think that extra bit of work helped us in the end, and I think testament to Andy for bringing it up, to make sure that we got over our stuff [faster] than probably we were going to.

“I can only speak about that on a personal level but yeah, it’s been pretty seamless for me. I think getting a good run of games last year, being in camp all the time, always having the same four of us in the centre, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing. At least that’s what it feels like for me.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer