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Monday 11 December 2017

Bowe tips Ulster centre McCloskey as dark horse for Ireland debut next month

11 October 2014; Ulster's Stuart McCloskey in action during the game. Guinness PRO12, Round 6, Ulster v Glasgow Warriors. Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Picture credit: John Dickson / SPORTSFILE
11 October 2014; Ulster's Stuart McCloskey in action during the game. Guinness PRO12, Round 6, Ulster v Glasgow Warriors. Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Picture credit: John Dickson / SPORTSFILE

Tommy Bowe has nominated Ulster's Stuart McCloskey as "definitely" a dark horse for Ireland's November internationals.

"His decision making, his handling abilities are right up there with anyone. Yeah, he's kinda come out of nowhere, I'm sure, for a lot of people," said Bowe.

"He played a few games last year and he was great. He is a player I wouldn't be surprised at all if he had an opportunity to wear the green jersey".

Last season, Luke Marshall was set to bed-in as Ireland's natural successor to Gordon D'Arcy at inside centre. Then, injury took hold of him.

Stuart Olding stepped up at twelve to look every inch an all-round class act with the composure to go beside his speed, distribution and aggression. Then, injury took hold of him.

When Olding finally overcame his serious knee injury to put numerous holes in the Scarlets, he had all the appearance of the Irish twelve-in-waiting.

Then, Stuart McCloskey took hold of an opportunity.

"I feel for Stu Olding because he played the first few games, started against the Scarlets, making line breaks all over the place, playing great stuff coming back from serious knee surgery," said Bowe.

"He got told 'we'll rest you for the away trip to Zebre' and Stuart McCloskey, who is 108 kilos, fast, strong, young, abrasive guy has come in and probably been our Man of the Match in the last three matches.

"As a coach, do you drop a guy who's playing out of his skin for someone?

"It is just one of those tough decisions. Stuart Olding is a very talented player, like Stuart McCloskey, and he will get his opportunity.

"I'm sure he would love to be playing. He needs to if he wants to be involved in the November internationals".

The mere fact that Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss oversaw the promotion and retention of McCloskey over Olding at Ulster suggests the former cannot be far from Irish selection.

Ulster's new head coach Neil Doak has a big decision to make this week.

Which Stuart does he turn to against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road? McCloskey or Olding?

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will also have to decide between the merits of Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy's transition from twelve-to-thirteen or Jared Payne's from fifteen-to-thirteen.

While the Wexford man has been winning plaudits, particularly for his defensive work, Payne has found the restriction in space difficult to overcome.

"Jared is a fantastic fifteen; he's a super thirteen as well," said Bowe

It would appear obvious that D'Arcy and Payne have been placed in a three-horse race with Connacht's Robbie Henshaw to man a position that is central to the way Ireland play.

"Thirteen is a position you're not going to be able to make the same sort of line breaks as you get to at fifteen. He's only four or five games into it.

"Jared is very much one of the main men in setting up those line breaks for the rest of the players.

"He's a classy operator. He's a very talented player".

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