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McCloskey: This One Should Be Extra Special

McCloskey: This One Should Be Extra Special

Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey is enjoying the best season of his career and he is hoping to extend it for one more week as he looks ahead to Friday’s GUINNESS PRO12 semi-final against Leinster.

It has been a fantastic season to date for Stuart McCloskey who has established himself as one of the most devastating centres in the game. His form was rewarded on the international stage in February when Joe Schmidt gave the Bangor native his Ireland debut during the Six Nations against England.

Most recently the 23-year-old was awarded the Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year at the province’s annual awards night last Thursday. This latest accolade comes just 12 months after he won the BT Young Player of the Year, and it is not something that he takes lightly.

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“It is obviously a fantastic honour; I was delighted to receive it. It certainly wasn’t something that I was expecting as we have had some outstanding players throughout the year so it was a great personal achievement for me. At the beginning of the season if someone had told me the year I would have, I would’ve taken their arm off for it,” said McCloskey.

Having missed three weeks of action in April due to an AC joint injury sustained in the home win over Connacht, he returned to the Ulster team that defeated Leinster at Kingspan Stadium on April 30. That win was the third in a run of four successive victories, and McCloskey says the mood in the Ulster camp is good as they prepare for this Friday’s showdown.

“Everyone is very excited. Everyone around the province is on a bit of a high having won the last four games and collected two bonus points to qualify, so hopefully we can push on now and win the play-off.”

During the PRO12 regular season both sides recorded home wins, as Leinster edged out Ulster 8-3 at the RDS in November, while just a few weeks ago Ulster avenged that loss with a 30-6 win at Kingspan Stadium. However, McCloskey knows that previous scorelines can be somewhat deceiving.

“We lost down there earlier in the season in a tight game. In the return fixture at Kingspan Stadium we had a lot more to play for; at the time it was our biggest game of the year, so there was a lot more at stake for us, whereas they still managed to top the table despite losing to us. We’re under no illusions that it will be a lot tighter game this Friday.”

Friday’s game is set to be an intriguing tussle between two teams that are renowned for exciting attacking play, complemented by the two meanest defences in the league, with Leinster and Ulster shipping a miserly average of just 13.2 and 14.0 points per game respectively.

The Ireland international added: “It’s knockout rugby now, so it generally tends to be a lot cagier than regular season games. Both teams are very strong defensively and are also among the top try scorers in the league, so we are well aware that we will need to be very efficient with any opportunities that are presented while trying to ensure we contain Leinster’s attacking threat. We just need to focus on our preparation so that we are ready for whatever scenarios unfold.”

From Kingspan Stadium to Twickenham, McCloskey has already been involved in some huge games this year, and he is anticipating another memorable occasion on Friday night.

“It’s a great occasion to look forward to, it always is between Leinster and us, so this one should be extra special. I know the Ulster fans will be travelling in force so there will be a great atmosphere at the RDS. Hopefully the team can put in a good performance and keep the season going for another week.”