"I probably thought that I wouldn’t play for Ireland too much again" - Stuart McCloskey 4 months ago

"I probably thought that I wouldn’t play for Ireland too much again" - Stuart McCloskey

"Oh, sorry."

It's hard to miss Stuart McCloskey, all 6-foot-4 of him, especially when he walks in on two debutants talking excitedly about their first ever Test outings for Ireland.

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The Ulster centre is fresh off another Test start for Ireland, with a solid performance and a fourth international try the reasons for pep in his step. He had been summoned from the home dressing room to speak to us press folk and give us all pieces for Tuesday [sound of the IRFU].

Frawley and Nash are still running us through their experiences of making that first start for Ireland - both lads have roomed with each other on various international call-ups, over the years and both said they were balls of nerves at certain stages. McCloskey enters the room, realises what is going on and backs away. He does not want to tread on either players' spotlight.

The newbies wrap up and McCloskey takes his seat, sharing the odd 'cheers' or remark to the reporters as they place their phones or dictaphones nearby. Still wearing his game shorts, he has swapped the jersey for a polo top and eases back in his chair when the questions start coming.

Ireland scored five tries on their way to a 33-17 win over Italy but McCloskey acknowledges 'we were a tiny bit rusty when we got close to the tryline'. "I thought we played fairly well," he adds. "The game was never in doubt. It was just that sort of clinical [edge] we missed, especially in the first half when we were on top."

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Stuart McCloskey Stuart McCloskey of Ireland is tackled by Marco Riccioni, left, and Lorenzo Cannone of Italy. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Stuart McCloskey on being a specialist, and taking his chance

If someone had told me, one year ago, that Stuart McCloskey was a really solid bet to make Ireland's World Cup squad, I would have asked who, and how many of them, were injured.

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The big man was a model of impactful consistency at Ulster but his international future looked bleak. Ireland had Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw to call on - two Lions and a guy who should be a two-time Lion already - James Hume looked next in line and Ciarán Frawley was showing he could be a playmaking 12.

Hume and Frawley did get injured on the 2022 summer tour to New Zealand, which McCloskey was a late call-up for. Last November, Henshaw was still coming back from his own injury and Aki was suspended for the first two Tests of a three-game block. In came the 'Bangor Bulldozer' and he never looked back. As he pointed out, on Saturday, he has started seven of Ireland's last nine Tests 'and we've won them all'.

McCloskey is aware of Ireland bringing four centres to the 2019 World Cup. Frawley and the equally versatile Keith Earls are his competition here and, to a lesser extent, Jamie Osborne but he is in a good position to make the cut.

"At the start of last summer, when I wasn’t involved in the tour to New Zealand, I probably thought that I wouldn’t play for Ireland too much again," McCloskey told us.

“To get that opportunity and come back in to play so many games, it has been a dream. I have really enjoyed being here. I just want to keep enjoying it while I’m here, and hopefully, I’ll get on that plane and play a pretty good role when we get out there in what should be a pretty big World Cup for us."

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"I think I got six caps before the start of this year," the 31-year-old added. "I had a decent game against the Maori All Blacks when I went out there [to New Zealand]. It’s just luck a lot of the time.

"Bundee and Robbie are playing brilliantly for the last five or six years, at 12 and 13 for Ireland, and the Lions as well, so it was pretty hard to break in when they were probably two of the best 12s in the world for a good number of years.

"But hopefully, in the last year, I have shown that when I do get an opportunity in a team like this that I can play well and be in that sort of calibre of player."

McCloskey is with the Ireland squad as they train at The Campus in Faro, Portugal, this week. Ireland are set to be one of the latest World Cup sides to reveal their squad - likely late August - so it means the speculation on who or who isn't going to France will continue.

The Ulster centre does not even try to attempt the staid line of 'I haven't thought about it' when squad selection is raised, in the final question of his briefing.

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"I'd say guys would lie to you and tell you no, but I’m sure they do and that they’ve looked at squads! I know I have looked at squads in the past and at who normally goes and what the make-up of the squad will be. But who knows who will be in it?

"I’m sure you guys will name probable squads and all that and you probably won’t be too far off either the way this team has been going."

As the chat gets wrapped up, there is a final-final question tacked on to that final question. Does being a specialist 12 possibly hinder you?

"Not so much in this team," Stuart McCloskey replies. "I think when Joe [Schmidt] was coaching, it definitely hindered me in terms of getting games as I just play 12.

"But Robbie is a world-class 13 when he plays there. Ringer is probably the best 13 in the world, at the minute. I think I am a pretty good 12. If you need me to play 12, there, the other guys can move around and be just as good in other positions, so I hope it doesn’t hinder me. But if it does, it is what it is.

"I like to play 12 pretty well and I think I’ve played it very well over the last 10 years of professional rugby, so it is what it is. If I don’t get selected because I just play 12, then that’s just what it is."

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