Jump to main content



Player Profiles: Ireland Squad Newcomers

Player Profiles: Ireland Squad Newcomers

There are four uncapped players in the Ireland squad named for the upcoming RBS 6 Nations Championship. We profile the newcomers who have received call-ups from head coach Joe Schmidt.

Ireland Squad Named For Opening Rounds Of RBS 6 Nations

STUART MCCLOSKEY (Ballynahinch/Ulster)

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Born: Bangor, August 6, 1992
Height: 1.91m/6ft 3in
Weight: 108kg/17st
Position: Centre
Honours: Emerging Ireland

– Having impressed in the colours of Bangor Grammar School and Dungannon Rugby Club, McCloskey enjoyed a rapid rise at Ulster where he progressed from the sub-Academy to the Academy before signing his first professional contract (a two-year deal) as a senior player last January

– Known for his physical stature and powerful running, he had spells at scrum half and out-half during his schools career before gaining the size in his late teens that marked him out as a big ball-carrying centre

– McCloskey has struck up a potent centre partnership with Luke Marshall at Ulster this season, with big performances against the likes of the Ospreys, Toulouse and Saracens. Is in his second full season with the province and has scored four tries, five conversions and three penalties in 35 games to date

– Played for Emerging Ireland the last two summers, helping them to win the Nations Cup in Bucharest and the Tbilisi Cup in the Georgian capital. He was paired with the likes of Eoin Griffin and Noel Reid in midfield, and scored a try against Emerging Italy in Tbilisi last June

Form: ‘The Bangor Bulldozer’ has beaten the most defenders (26) across the entire European Champions Cup after five rounds

Coach Quote – Les Kiss (Ulster): “Stuart was called into the (Ireland) camp a few weeks ago so he’s in their sights. It’s not for me to say whether he’ll get there or not but he’s playing very well. He’s developing all elements of his game and if he’s selected it’ll be deserved.”

Did You Know?: McCloskey also played golf as a youngster, getting his handicap down to three. He was a regular at Clandeboye Golf Club and played in a number of boys tournaments around the country, including the Ulster Under-18 Boys competition

ULTAN DILLANE (Corinthians/Connacht)

Born: Paris, France, November 9, 1993
Height: 1.98m/6ft 5in
Weight: 115kg
Position: Second Row
Honours: Ireland Under-18 Clubs, Ireland Under-19s

– Born in Paris, France, but raised in Tralee, Co. Kerry, Dillane earned his first three Connacht caps in interprovincial derbies last season, quickly marking himself out as a talented and athletic second row

– The dreadlocked Connacht Academy graduate, who signed a two-year contract with the province twelve months ago, tried a number of sports as a child. It was actually a five euro bribe from his mother, Kerry woman Ellen, that convinced himself and his brother Cian to try out rugby at Tralee RFC and he was soon hooked

– Dillane has played 18 times for Connacht so far, including 10 appearances during the current campaign. He made his European debut against Enisei-STM in sub-zero temperatures in Siberia in November, and followed up with PRO12 starts against Munster, Ulster and the Scarlets

– He is a proud product of Munster Junior club Tralee RFC and has lined out for Galway side Corinthians in the Ulster Bank League, including earlier this season against Nenagh Ormond

Form: Has continued to progress and make more of an impact as a Connacht starter this season, using his long limbs to very good use in the lineout and the loose – witness his try-saving tackle on Brive full-back Romain Sola last week

Coach Quote – Pat Lam (Connacht): “Ultan still has a lot of learning to do, but Joe (Schmidt) has seen the abrasiveness, the youth and the enthusiasm and being part of that (December) camp is going to be great for his development.

“At the end of the day for us it’s all about the collective and if you get recognised, you get recognised. There is a lot of talent in Ireland, in all four provinces, and there is more coming through.”

Did You Know?: Dillane, whose father is from the Ivory Coast, spent the first seven years of his life in Paris. He used his French language skills to decode and win a couple of the France teams’ lineouts during underage internationals

CJ STANDER (Munster)

Born: George, South Africa, April 5, 1990
Height: 1.88m/6ft 2in
Weight: 114kg/17st 13lb
Position: Back Row
Honours: South Africa Under-20s

– One of the most consistent performers at provincial level in recent seasons, Stander was honoured as the first overseas player to win the Munster Rugby Player of the Year award at the tail-end of the 2014/15 campaign

– The powerfully-built back rower racked up seven man-of-the-match awards for Munster last season and has emerged as a real leader and inspirational captain for the Reds in the absence of Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony

– The former South African Under-20 captain moved to Munster in October 2012 having played 16 times for the Bulls at Super Rugby level. He grew up on his family’s dairy and vegetable farm in Grootboom, near George in South Africa, and became Irish-qualified by residency following the recent Rugby World Cup

– Signed a two-year contract extension last month, which will see him remain at Munster until at least June 2018. Scored his 23rd try on his 75th appearance for Munster against Stade Francais last week

Form: Has impressed fans and rugby pundits alike with his regular man-of-the-match performances, the most recent of them coming in last Saturday’s rousing 26-13 win over Stade at Thomond Park

Coach Quote – Anthony Foley (Munster): “I think the supporters are starting to connect with CJ now and they’re starting to see what he’s about, and it’s the grit and the hard work. It’s not just the big carries. He’s good out on the pitch. Him being captain this year obviously wasn’t something that we foresaw.

“It wasn’t a plan until Peter’s knee went, so we needed to figure out who was the man to lead this because this group would be used to big leaders, big physical, demanding men that lead but also make sense in what they’re trying to get out of it, and I think CJ is getting there, and he’s going to be a great leader going forward.”

Did You Know?: CJ is married to Jean-Marié Neethling, a South African international swimmer whose brother Ryk won Olympic gold in the 4x100m freestyle at the Athens Olympics in 2004. CJ himself has excelled in other sports, including winning gold in the discus at the Under-17 Commonwealth Junior Games


Born: Dublin, April 15, 1993
Height: 1.85m/6ft 1in
Weight: 98kg/15st 6lb
Position: Flanker
Honours: Ireland Under-19s, Ireland Under-20s

– Off a conveyor belt of back row talent in Leinster, van der Flier made his senior debut for the province (against Zebre in October 2014) before completing his time in the Leinster Academy. He made the move up to the senior squad just last summer

– Making the most of his opportunities to play for UCD in the Ulster Bank League and Leinster ‘A’ in the British & Irish Cup, the former Wesley College student also won 11 caps for the Ireland Under-20s between 2013 and 2014

– A great reader of the game despite his tender years, he uses his frame to very good effect at openside flanker and has already made 11 starts in the Leinster number 7 jersey

– Is in his final year studying Sports Management at UCD, and cites Michael Jordan and Rory McIlroy as two of his sporting heroes

Form: Scored a try on his Champions Cup debut away to Bath in November, and followed up with three European starts against Toulon (2) last month and Bath again last week

Coach Quote – Leo Cullen (Leinster): “I’m not massively surprised (at Josh’s progression), because he puts in an incredible amount of work in his preparation, to make sure he is as good as he can be, and there’s nobody that spends more time working on their game than him.

“He’s a really, really good example of a guy who has just come through the system, put his head down and you can see it in his performances. He’s very, very accurate in what he delivers – week in, week out.”

Did You Know?: His unusual surname (pronounced van der ‘Fleer’ rather than van der ‘Flyer’) comes from his Dutch grandparents who moved to Ireland. Josh’s father Dirk played rugby for the Leinster Under-21s and inspired his son’s love of the oval ball game