McCloskey Focused On ‘Going Out And Showing What I Can Do’
Stuart McCloskey’s injury-enforced departure against South Africa was a case of cruel luck, but he feels fortunate to be in a position to make back-to-back Test starts for only the second time in his Ireland career.
McCloskey will win his eighth cap against Fiji just a week on from suffering an arm injury, which forced him off in the 26th minute of Ireland’s 19-16 Bank of Ireland Nations Series victory over the Springboks.
He teams up in midfield with Robbie Henshaw for the first time since making his debut alongside the Athlone man against England back in 2016. He is eager to show more of what he can do in attack this weekend.
“I think it’s something I’ve always done well at provincial level, is play week in, week out quite well and get better as I go on. So, hopefully that’s the case here,” said McCloskey, who started consecutive games for Ireland during the 2021 Vodafone Summer Series.
“Looking back on it (last week’s game), I was pleased with how the 27-odd minutes went. I can take solace in that. It’s just rugby. You’re unlucky at times, I was very disappointed at the time (with the injury), but things have resolved themselves pretty well.
“It was a nerve – the ulnar nerve if we’re being specific. I hit that and my arm just went completely dead. My forearm was in a lot of pain but it cleared up pretty well.
I was frustrated at the time, I thought I broke my forearm and I was pretty worried about that. Going off, I was thinking I had waited six-and-a-half years to play another tier 1 team – not that playing other teams wasn’t big, but it’s nice to show yourself against a world class team like South Africa, so I was disappointed.
“Looking back on it, the positives were I was playing quite well when I was on, and it hasn’t seemed to be as bad as first thought with the injury.
“Most of it was spent defending, South Africa started pretty well. Some of the tackle and breakdown stuff was good at the start, I just wish I could have stayed on longer and done a wee bit more going forward.”
McCloskey and Henshaw will certainly pack a punch as a centre pairing, standing at 6ft 4in and 6ft 3in respectively and weighing almost a combined 33 stone. Facing them are Fiji’s dynamic duo of Kalaveti Ravouvou and Waisea Nayacalevu, their experienced captain.
The Bangor man has experience of playing the Fijians before, getting the full 80 minutes under his belt when a Rhys Ruddock-led Ireland side scored three tries in a tight 23-20 win at the Aviva Stadium in November 2017.
McCloskey does not feel under any extra pressure to perform this week, given his early exit last Saturday and the fact that the competition for places will intensify even more with Bundee Aki back from suspension for the series finale against Australia.
Ireland are in a lucky position to have a clutch of world class centres at their disposal, and the 30-year-old Ulster star is doing his utmost to ensure he gets more match minutes heading into a Rugby World Cup year.
He has had to be patient in waiting for an opportunity given Ireland’s impressive form of late, with a ten match winning streak at home allied to their historic Test series success in New Zealand.
“It’s just about going out and showing what I can do, not letting the moment get over you and play your own game,” admitted McCloskey, who has scored three tries in his last five games for Ireland.
“When Bundee plays, he’s been very good. When Robbie’s played 12 he’s been very good. Why would you change a winning team? That’s the way I look at it.
“I’ve played at the same sort of level as them, provincial-wise, for a long time. It’s just waiting for your opportunity to get in there and play for Ireland.
“If I was Andy (Farrell), why would I change the team unless I was leaps and bounds ahead of those guys? Those two are probably two of the best 12s in the world for the best part of five or six years.
“I don’t think I was lots better than them, but I think it was quite an even battle between all three of us.”
McCloskey’s consistent form was one of the reasons why the Ireland coaching group backed him to deliver as a late replacement for the injured Henshaw against the ‘Boks. Paul O’Connell said they were ‘really confident in his ability and his smarts, the experience he has in that position’.
He will be tasked with building on that bright start from the South Africa game, doing the things that got him selected in the first place as he seeks to cause more selection headaches for Farrell and his fellow coaches.
“Listen, I’d love to be in the reckoning for the World Cup but there’s a long time between now and then. I just want to play a few more games in the next year leading up to the World Cup, and to play 80 minutes (this Saturday) would be great.
“I’d love to keep on playing on (in these next two games). I know it’s only provincially, but over the years I think I’ve done very well, bounced from game to game, played a lot of rugby.
“It’s always seemed to work for me when I’ve played three or four games in a row, not just in and out one game here and there,” he added.
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
England side to face Ireland in Six Nations
Captain Owen Farrell will start at fly half, Manu Tuilagi returns to the side at inside centre with Henry Slade at outside centre. There is a first England start for Henry Arundell on the left wing, Anthony Watson is at right wing, and Freddie Steward is full back.
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In the forward pack Lewis Ludlam is named vice-captain and is flanker alongside Jack Willis. Alex Dombrandt is at No. 8. In the same front row that has started each game of the championship, vice-captain Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler are at prop and Jamie George is at hooker. David Ribbans starts at lock with Maro Itoje.
Dan Cole is in line to make his 100th appearance for England after being named as replacement. Cole made his England debut in the Six Nations in February 2010. He has gone on to play in three Rugby World Cups and has won three Guinness Six Nations titles.
Nick Isiekwe and Joe Marchant return to the bench, along with Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell and Marcus Smith.
“We travel to Dublin to face an Ireland team on Saturday that has the chance to secure a Grand Slam Championship victory at home for the first time” said Borthwick.
“We know that after the bitter disappointment of the display against an exceptional France team last week, we will have to be much improved to meet the challenge of playing the side presently ranked number one in the world.
“However, I have witnessed an England squad determined to make amends for the defeat at Twickenham, and I am confident that the team announced today will once again want to show the sort of resilience and attitude that brought us victory in Wales.”
Team to face Ireland
15. Freddie Steward
14. Anthony Watson
13. Henry Slade
12. Manu Tuilagi
11. Henry Arundell
10. Owen Farrell (C)
1. Ellis Genge (VC)
2. Jamie George
4. Maro Itoje
6. Lewis Ludlam (VC)
7. Jack Willis
16. Jack Walker
17. Mako Vunipola
18. Dan Cole
19. Nick Isiekwe
20. Ben Curry
21. Alex Mitchell
22. Marcus Smith
23. Joe Marchant
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Ireland Squad Named For Guinness Six Nations Super Saturday
Ireland will take on England at a sold-out Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening (Kick-off 5pm) for the chance to claim the Guinness Six Nations Championship title, the Triple Crown and a fourth Men’s Grand Slam title.
World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier will win his 50th cap on Saturday. He lines out in an unchanged back row as Caelan Doris is named to start alongside him and Peter O’Mahony.
In the front row, Dan Sheehan has been passed fit and will start with Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong on either side of the scrum. Rob Herring comes in on the bench in place of Ronan Kelleher.
Ryan Baird, who came on for the injured Iain Henderson in Scotland, will partner James Ryan in the second row with Kieran Treadwell named in the replacements.
Captain Johnny Sexton will be partnered at half-back by Jamison Gibson Park and Robbie Henshaw comes into the centre to play alongside Bundee Aki. The back three of Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen and James Lowe start for a fifth consecutive Six Nations fixture.
Sexton equalled Ronan O’Gara’s Six Nations Championship all-time points scorer record (557 points) against Scotland and can become the outright top points scorer against England this weekend.
Jimmy O’Brien come into the match day 23 to join Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Jack Conan, Conor Murray and Ross Byrne who all featured last weekend in Murrayfield.
Ireland’s final game of the Championship will be broadcast live on VIRGIN and ITV television and RTE and BBCNI radio.
IRELAND Team (v England, 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Saturday 18th March, 2023, KO 17.00 (IST))
15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 29 caps
14. Mack Hansen (Connacht/Corinthians) 13 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 61 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 45 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 19 caps
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 112 caps (c)
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 24 caps
1. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
2. Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 16 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 64 caps
4. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 10 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 93 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 49 caps
8. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps
16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 33 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 122 caps
18. Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 8 caps
19. Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 10 caps
20. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 37 caps
21. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 104 caps
22. Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 18 caps
23. Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster/Naas) 4 caps
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Wales name much changed team for France
Head coach Warren Gatland has named his Wales senior men’s XV for the final round Guinness Six Nations match against France this Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris (KO 2.45pm GMT live on ITV and S4C).
No 8 Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th Wales cap having made his debut against the Barbarians in June 2011 and won his 50th cap against Fiji at Rugby World Cup 2015.
Dillon Lewis is in line to make his 50th senior international appearance for Wales from the bench. George North – also in the Wales starting line-up that faced the Barbarians when Faletau made his debut – partners Nick Tompkins in the Wales midfield.
Louis Rees-Zammit makes his third start for Wales at full back. Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are selected on the wings.
Dan Biggar returns from injury at fly half. Rhys Webb, who made his first start in this year’s Championship against Italy, continues at scrum half.
There are two changes to the forward pack that started last weekend’s outing at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Alun Wyn Jones is named in the second row, while Aaron Wainwright will make his first appearance this Six Nations coming in at blind-side flanker. Jac Morgan has been ruled out with an ankle injury picked up in training.
Among the Wales replacements Bradley Roberts and Gareth Thomas join Lewis in providing the front row cover.
Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell are the other forwards in the match day 23. Leigh Halfpenny is named one of the Wales replacement backs, along with Tomos Williams and Owen Williams.
Gatland said: “Last weekend was really important for us getting a win in the Six Nations and building a bit of confidence. It was a step in the right direction but there’s still lots for us to work on.
“We’ve worked hard on a few things in terms of tidying some of the defensive lapses that we’ve made and getting those things right. We’re still working hard on our attack.
“I think France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances seen in a long, long time. They’re the number two team in the world. They bring a really physical approach to the way they play and they’ve tended to start well.
“So that’s the important thing. We’ve got to go out there and start well, make sure we’re in that arm wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity.
“They’re a team that kick the ball a lot, so we’ve also got to make sure that our backfield is right and we’ve got to be good in the air.”
On Faletau reaching 100 caps for Wales Gatland added: “Toby has been a fantastic servant for Welsh rugby. Even though he’s reaching 100 caps he’s still pretty quiet, but he’s incredibly well respected by the players for what he’s achieved.
“I remember in the early years he was just a constant and he became absolutely world class in terms of his performances.
“There’s a lot of things that people don’t see in terms of his ability to read the game – he’ll run support lines that people don’t see. You see that when you’re going back through the videos and there have been times where he’s been on the end of a pass and scored tries. We saw that last week, Rhys Webb makes a break and Toby scores a try.
“Getting 100 caps is a great recognition for what he’s achieved in the game. It’s fantastic for him and his family and hopefully we can go out there and give him a really good performance and something for him to remember.”
Wales senior men’s XV to play France in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 18 March KO 2.45pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C
15 Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby – 24 caps)
14 Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 48 caps)
13 George North (Ospreys – 112 caps)
12 Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 26 caps)
11 Rio Dyer (Dragons – 6 caps)
10 Dan Biggar (Toulon – 106 caps)
9 Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 39 caps);
1 Wyn Jones (Scarlets – 47 caps)
2 Ken Owens (Scarlets – 90 caps) CAPT
3 Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 70 caps)
4 Adam Beard (Ospreys – 45 caps)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 157 caps)
6 Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 36 caps)
7 Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 92 caps)
8 Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 99 caps)
16 Bradley Roberts (Dragons – 4 caps)
17 Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 20 caps)
18 Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 49 caps)
19 Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 5 caps)
20 Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 8 caps)
21 Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 44 caps)
22 Owen Williams (Ospreys – 6 caps)
23 Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 98 caps)
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