Director of rugby at Ulster, Les Kiss, said the whole of the Province had been given a massive lift by Stuart McCloskey’s inclusion in the Ireland squad to face England at Twickenham on Saturday in the RBS 6 Nations Championship.
The 23-year-old centre has been an imposing and central force in the Ulster midfield since making his breakthrough at the start of the 2014-15 season.
He has featured prominently with Emerging Ireland and his form saw him selected for the Irish squad at the start of the Six Nations.
Battering ram McCloskey will now form perhaps Ireland’s biggest centre pairing of all time alongside Robbie Henshaw against the English.
McCloskey has replaced Ulster team mate Jared Payne, who has failed to beat his hamstring problem, with Connacht’s Henshaw moving out to 13.
Last night Kiss told the News Letter there was a tremendous sense of pride around the Kingspan at McCloskey’s selection.
“Everyone is so proud,” said Kiss. “The reaction during training today when the news was confirmed reflected that.
“It is just brilliant the way Stuart has worked hard here (with Ulster) and that is has been rewarded further”
Kiss, who was assistant coach at Ireland for seven years before taking up the director of rugby role at Ulster last November, added: “Stuart has put the effort in. He has watched videos of his games, he has made the improvements he needed to.
“He has worked on his skill set, he has learned to use his size well and has improved on all the facets of the game.
“Defensively he has been an essential man for us -absolutely massive .
“I am delighted for Stuart and we hope he goes well and produces the form that we have seen here.”
Ireland winger, Andrew Trimble, who retained his place in the side to face England, hailed the Bangor native’s bullish running lines that could help put Ireland on the front foot this weekend.
“To say Stuart will handle his debut is probably an understatement; he always steps up to whatever is in front of him,” said Trimble.
“I have been there all season with Ulster and I have had the opportunity to watch him step up to every challenge he has been faced with and it has been very impressive.
“He is a very confident fella. The right amount of confidence, but he takes his job very seriously.
“I’ve seen at first-hand just how impressive he’s been.
“He steps up to whatever challenges are in front of him, he relishes that and it’s a big opportunity for him to just impose himself physically.
“(Ireland coach) Joe (Schmidt) talked about one or two areas he’s working on as well, he’s not the full package yet, but he’s definitely getting there.
“He’s working on his passing game, his offloading, his defence.
“He’ll be under pressure in defence this weekend and defensively we’ve got a massive midfield.
“It’s something that we need to be very excited about, that physicality getting us gain-lines.”