Stuart McCloskey glad perseverance is finally paying for Ulster and Ireland
United Rugby Championship
Ulster v Lions (Friday, 7.35pm, live on BBC2, TG4 & ViaPlay)
Stuart McCloskey was ready to turn his back on international rugby after being omitted from Andy Farrell’s squad to tour New Zealand in 2022.
Despite his form for Ulster, the abrasive centre couldn’t break into the national starting team with Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose all ahead of the Bangor midfielder in the pecking order.
McCloskey had made his Ireland debut against England at Twickenham during the 2016 Six Nations but although he was making training squads, he only added another five caps in six years playing against tier two nations in autumn or summer internationals.
During a phone call with the Ireland head coach after missing out on selection for New Zealand, McCloskey was set to tell Farrell he’d had enough but he changed his mind.
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An injury to Ulster team-mate James Hume gave McCloskey a chance to go to New Zealand and he has won nine caps since, being part of the Grand Slam winning and World Cup squads.
"There were stages when I thought I was playing well for Ulster and I still wasn't getting a chance,” reasoned McCloskey.
"That tour when I didn't get picked to go to New Zealand, I remember a phone call with Faz (Andy Farell) where I nearly said I was going to call it a day.”
"I'm not saying he talked me out of it, I probably talked myself out of it as we were chatting, it wasn't an angry conversation, it was just a chat.”
Team News— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) November 16, 2023
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"I ended up going on that tour, played the Māoris, played well, ended up starting six in a row after that, winning a Six Nations, going to the World Cup, it's amazing how quickly things change.”
"I wouldn't say it was incredibly dark days, but I was down about it.”
"You grow up wanting to play for your province for a while and when you do that, you think you've an opportunity, you think you're at that level.”
"Which is kind of where I thought I was for a while, at a level where I thought I could play for Ireland if I was given a decent opportunity.”
"I felt I would have given it a good go but it's just the way it is sometimes, some coaches don't see what other coaches see."
McCloskey only got 57 minutes game time at the world cup but understood the management decision.
“I still felt I played a decent enough role when I came on against Scotland.”
“It was just the way things worked out that I really didn’t get playing, I think Bundee fully deserved to start, and he showed that, he was one of the four guys that was nominated for World Player of the Year.”
“So hopefully if I had of been starting, I would have been close to that as well,” joked McCloskey.
McCloskey returned to Ulster for the win over Munster last weekend and keeps his place for tonight’s URC clash with the Lions at Kingspan Stadium.
Despite all the talk of Ulster devolving an more attack game, the side have only earned one try bonus point in their first four matches.
"I don't think we've mentioned it, you're just trying to win at the end of the day.”
"We got the bonus in the first game, then the Bulls are a good side and it got wet towards the end of that game, if it'd stayed dry, we might have had a better chance of getting another one.”
"Connacht was a struggle but defensively we really showed up and they're a good team when you play them there, Munster are pretty good defensive team.”
"There's so many things we can work on and get better at and end up scoring those tries.”