Rugby Union

Stephen Ferris backs both Baloucoune and McCloskey for Ireland starts this autumn

Former Ireland internationals Stephen Ferris and Fiona Coghlan in Toner's Pub, Dublin, wearing the new Canterbury Ireland Rugby Heritage jersey, inspired by the classic jerseys of the past. The Heritage jersey is available now via Intersport Elverys in store and via, and on
Kenny Archer

FORMER Ulster, Ireland, and Lions forward star Stephen Ferris is keen to see a couple of Ulster backs given plenty of game-time in green this autumn.

The Portadown man is optimistic that Robert Baloucoune will line out on the wing against South Africa in Dublin this Saturday - and wants Stuart McCloskey to be given run-outs in the centre too.

The latter may have to wait for the forthcoming internationals against Fiji and Australia, with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose likely to be paired in the absence of the suspended Bundee Aki.

However, Enniskillen man Baloucoune may get the nod for a third senior cap, Ferris feels: “I think it’s going to be a good autumn for him. It’s slightly different now with the weather conditions. Obviously it’s taken a bit of a turn this week.

"He was out on the hard tracks in South Africa there playing against the Lions for Ulster and was really good. We all know he’s very solid defensively; makes big hits, good reads.

"But it’s when you’re having to stand on your wing for 20 or 30 minutes and just keep fielding high balls. I don’t think South Africa are going to change their brand of rugby just for the sake of playing against Ireland in the Autumn Nations Series, absolutely not. They’re going to build on what they have in their foundations leading into the Rugby World Cup."

Ferris believes it's a matter of the 25-year-old showing Ireland head coach Andy Farrell his all-round game: "He definitely has it in his locker but I think he’s going to be challenged in different ways over the next three weeks, if he gets an opportunity to play. As will a number of the lads.

"He’s one of the quickest players in Ireland, he hits really good lines and really good angles. Sometimes you don’t see him for 20 minutes. He’s not a James Lowe who will run to a breakdown and pick and go just to get himself involved when he’s maybe feeling a little bit isolated at times.

"He just comes across as your out-and-out winger and he is just that. So there is definitely a place for someone like Rob Baloucoune in this Irish team. Hopefully he gets a run over the next couple of weeks."

Ferris argues that the same should apply to Stuart McCloskey, pointing out: "I think the only time we’re really seen Stuart McCloskey in an Ireland jersey is when he's playing against the likes of Fiji or Japan. I would love to see him with a fully loaded pack, with Johnny Sexton, [Jamison] Gibson-Park, Henshaw or Ringrose, whoever is going to play outside him, with the first choice back three, and see how he goes.

"I think Andy Farrell likes him, I think he does like him, because he reminds me a little bit of Farrell as well as a player, he's got that abrasiveness and the physicality and the offloading ability - maybe not the kicking game, but he's definitely got a role to play in this Ireland team. Maybe it's not in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final in 2023, but he can definitely add something different."

Ferris alluded to McCloskey's importance for his province, but accepts that Ringrose has been in superior form recently:

"Just look at the Ulster performances when McCloskey has not played, they're just not the same, they aren't. It’s like with Ireland if you're going to pull out Henshaw and Ringrose and put in a completely different midfield, it just won’t function the same.

"So, yeah, I think he needs more minutes in a green jersey. Will he get them? That’s a different question. But I think he deserves them because he has been one of the in-form centres for the last couple of years. Even going to New Zealand there was a lot of chat that he and James Hume were playing better rugby than Ringrose and Henshaw. Obviously Ulster doing the double over Leinster as well.

"But then this season Ringrose has been phenomenal, he has been the stand-out centre for me, an absolute quality operator - when a few questions were asked he’s come out firing. Let's see if Stuart McCloskey gets a few minutes over the next couple of weeks."

* Stephen Ferris was speaking at the launch of the Canterbury Ireland Rugby Heritage jersey, inspired by the classic jerseys of the past. The Heritage jersey is available now via Intersport Elverys in store and via, and on

Rugby Union