Stuart McCloskey hoping for more away day glory against Northampton
Saturday, January 23 2010 might not be a date etched in the mind of many Ulster players or supporters, but it was a day when Ulster recorded their first win on English soil in European competition.
Ulster beat Bath 28-10 at the Rec, second-half tries from Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace securing the Irish province’s first victory in England at the 11th attempt.
Ulster have won on four of their last five visits to England, the only blimp coming this season at Gloucester when two late tries condemned Dan McFarland’s side to defeat.
Last weekend Ulster achieved their biggest win in England beating Harlequins 57-21 to advance to the European Challenge Cup quarter final.
Ulster face another trip across the Irish Sea for a clash with Northampton on Saturday for a place in the last four and centre Stuart McCloskey has a simple explanation why fortunes have improved in recent years in England.
“The mentality going over there has been pretty good, the team is probably a bit more even now, back in the day we just didn’t have the players that we have now, so we are probably a better team,” said McCloskey.
“Ever since I have been playing we have done quite well over in England, I remember at the start we lost to Leicester and Saracens a couple of times.”
Last Sunday was Ulster’s first game in the Challenge Cup and McCloskey, who got the first of Ulster’s eight tries, was happy the game was put to bed early.
“I think after we scored two or three tries it didn’t quite have the same intensity a lot of those games (Champions Cup) would have because Quins had a youngish team, and by that stage we just wanted to put on a few points rather that most times when you go to England, it’s just build the score and normally just trying to keep on top of a big English pack and a lot of star players.
“So yeah there was a slightly different feel to it but it is still Europe.”
It has been a stop and start season for the Irish centre but he feels he is starting to hit his stride.
“I think I’ve played 11 or 12 games this season and had the six at what was the end of last season, so hopefully if I don’t get injured it will be 24 or 25 and that will be a long enough year,” he said.
“I would have loved to play more, the international stuff sort of made it difficult for me to get games in terms of coming in and out of camp and the things with Covid.
“This season for myself, performance-wise I probably started a bit slowly but I’m building into it now, I think I’m playing pretty good stuff at the minute and I have been for maybe the last four or five games, and it is excellent to get a bit of momentum going into the business end of the season.”
McCloskey and James Hume have established themselves as Ulster’s frontline midfield partnership.
Skipper Iain Henderson was unable to win his fitness race so Dan McFarland names an unchanged starting line up from the Quins game.
Northampton Saints make nine changes from their quarter-final victory with Dan Biggar, Lewis Ludlam, Nick Isiekwe, Piers Francis and David Ribbans returning.
Ulster team to play Northampton Saints, Challenge Cup Quarter-Final, Saturday 10 April at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport): (15-9) Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Capt.), Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
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