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‘Hopefully I can put a good performance in’ – Stuart McCloskey relishing USA test

Stuart McCloskey might have reckoned it was worth the wait.

is try last weekend was, belatedly, his first in an Irish shirt.

An international career that sounds mightily impressive when you say that it is in its sixth year but rather less so when you acknowledge he will win just his sixth cap against the USA this weekend.

“One week on, one year off!” he laughs.

That it will also be his second meeting against the Stateside minnows of the global game perhaps illustrates where he rates in the pecking order.

For his is a measly total for one who began his international career burgeoning with promise against England in a Six Nations championship clash in 2016.

Too much promise, perhaps; a tendency to depart from prepared script did not endear him to the previous regime and his punishment for errant off-loading resulted in him being, well, off-loaded.

Stoutly, he remained one of his province’s better players, revelling in ball-playing as much as wall-crashing but there were better players than he elsewhere in Ireland; hence, there was little clamour for him to return to a green jersey.

As he crossed in the first-half last week, during a rare moment of fluidity, he almost seemed surprised to dot down in the corner, as if he were momentarily remembering the previous restrictions that once weighed him down in an Irish shirt.

“Any time it’s great to get picked for your country but to get two in a row, it’s a first for me,” he smiles.

“It’s good to get two weeks in a row and hopefully I can put a good performance in.”

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Stuart McCloskey scores against Japan. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

He is only 28 but has yet to discuss with coach Andy Farrell whether this month’s window offers him a glimpse for reward next season, when the Lions and an injured Garry Ringrose return to the fray, or whether this summer represents a reward for last season.

“He’s been concentrating, we’ve been concentrating on these games and for the centres really, it’s just that connection and being a second set of eyes for the ten and trying to see a better picture of the field and trying to get to the edge a bit more.

“If that’s the answer you’re looking for, that’s what it’s been for me.”

If McCloskey does not represent the future, than maybe his effervescent partner James Hume might do so.

Along with the speed merchant Robert Baloucoune, there is a more than a hint of the day in Limerick against Fiji nine years ago when a strong northern contingent – Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson and Darren Cave – carved it up against second-rate opponents.

“It’s obviously great to see them in there from the start,” McCloskey says of the Ulster duo who join potentially eight full debuts by the Dodder.

“They’ve both had great years, obviously Rob has been injured on and off but when he’s been playing, he’s been class.

“He has got the pace to burn and if we get him on the wing in a bit of space, hopefully we’ll see a few tries.”

“James has been probably one of Ulster’s most consistent performers. He was up for most of the player of the year awards even though he didn’t win them. He was in the top three from the coaches and players.

“He’s been great all year. James will bring that great footwork he has, he’s got that power as well and to operate in the passing game as well.

“Hopefully we’ll see all that at the weekend. He’s obviously slightly different to Chris but don’t think I’ll be changing the way I play at all really.

“Maybe when James had one or two caps with Ulster, I tried to help him along with it but he’s had, I don’t know, he’s had 40 odd games for Ulster now.

“He knows what the professional game is, he leads a lot of things, he’s quite a vocal guy.

“I won’t really be doing a lot different to what I did last week.”

One might argue he needs to; history informs us that only some debutants will thrive; indeed, McCloskey’s own progress offers cautionary counsel.

“It’s obviously difficult,” he says of his staccato progress in green.

“You’d love to be getting consistent rugby. The guys that are there ahead of me have been doing brilliantly.

“You see Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw and they’re probably going to be the starting centres for the Lions so it’s not as if the competition hasn’t been good.

“Yeah, it’s difficult slotting in and dropping out. I think the level of preparation here when you’re in the team that isn’t training really does help you coming back in.

“But obviously I’d have loved to have played a bit more.”

It almost sounds like a lingering lament; he is the only one who can change the tune.

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