RUGBY: Stewart McCloskey up against former Ulster star in battle for Irish places

Stuart McCloskey
Stuart McCloskey

Ulster centre, Stuart McCloskey, has been rewarded for some powerful displays with a call to the Ireland squad for the November Test series.

Although he has been a regular in the Ulster line-up McCloskey has only one cap to his name, having played against England in the 2016 Six Nations championship.

He will see this as a huge opportunity to make a claim once again having been overlooked previously - although injury timings were never good.

However, McCloskey has to go up against two uncapped players who will also fancy their chances.

Connacht’s Bundee Aki has now qualified under residency rules and former Ulster centre, Chris Farrell is the second of four uncapped players named by Ireland boss Joe Schmdit for the Tests against South African, Fiji and Argentina.

The Fivemiletown man, who began his rugby career with Clogher Valley, was a Schools’ Cup winner with Campbell College.

He spent three seasons with Ulster and was one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in Ireland.

Had it not been for serious injury he would probably have made his Irish debut by now.

Having left Ulster for French club Grenoble, where he made 74 appearances in a three year stint there, he returned to Irish shores last summer and has been impressing with Munster.

With Schmidt leaving the departing Simon Zebo out of his squad this time around, the inclusion of Farrell could also be a statement around the selection of Irish players who are staying at home.

Meanwhile, former Connacht coach, Pat Lam, believes Aki can become a “special” player for Ireland.

New Zealand-born centre Aki has won his first Ireland call-up for the November Tests, after completing his three-year residency period.

The 27-year-old with Samoan parents is one of four uncapped additions to Schmidt’s 38-man squad for Ireland’s Tests against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.

Lam convinced Aki to trade New Zealand’s Chiefs for Connacht in 2014 and believes the battering-ram centre has shown “real guts” to provide for his young family and now realise his Test rugby dream.

“I’ve said it from day one when he signed for Connacht, then again when I was leaving for Bristol: nothing would make me more proud of seeing Bundee wear that Ireland jersey,” Lam said.

“He’s an exceptionally talented player, but he’s very passionate, he just loves teamwork and operating at the highest level is where he deserves to be.

“He’s going to be special for Ireland if he gets capped,” added Lam who is now coaching at Bristol.