McCloskey can make step up - Kiss
Last weekend's trip to Saracens' Allianz Park provided Stuart McCloskey with the toughest test of his young career but the inside-centre is hoping that bigger challenges lie ahead in the coming months.
Ireland's Six Nations panel is expected to be announced tomorrow and, outside of the newly-qualified Munster back-rower CJ Stander, McCloskey seems the most likely uncapped player to force his way into Joe Schmidt's squad.
The 23-year-old was part of the extended gathering that assembled at Carton House between the festive interpros and final rounds of the Champions Cup earlier this month, but with the plethora of players at Schmidt's disposal, McCloskey is reluctant to look too far ahead.
"I think that I have been playing well," he reflected. "All I can do it play well at Ulster. I figure I'm performing well here so hopefully I've put my hand up for selection."
His provincial director of rugby Les Kiss, more than familiar with Schmidt's way of working after almost two and half years together in the Ireland set-up, has been pleased with the development of a player he has started in nine of his ten games in charge.
"Stuart was called into the camp a few weeks ago so he's obviously in their sights," said Schmidt's former defensive specialist. "It's not for me to say whether he'll get there or not but he's certainly playing very well. He's developing all elements of his game and if he's selected it'll be well done.
"That's what Joe and the other coaches will decide over the next day or two."
With the national side's forwards coach Simon Easterby and Kiss' eventual successor Andy Farrell watching on in north London last weekend, McCloskey again impressed in what was a losing effort.
While Saracens' superior quality came to the fore in the second half, it was a searing break from McCloskey that set up Ulster for their first try of the game and a lead they would hold until the 36th minute.
With Mark McCall's men having taken 10 points from the province in this season's Champions Cup, McCloskey has found the Premiership champions an opponent of unparalleled quality.
"They're probably the best team I've ever played," he said. "They just do the basics so well. They've a lot of good ball carriers, their whole pack one to eight, there's a lot of internationals there. They're hard to stop sometimes.
"I think we probably should have gone in up (at half-time) but we should have reacted better in the second half and come out a bit stronger. We knew it was always going to be tough, obviously they're a great team Saracens.
"We didn't make it easy for ourselves. We had chances."