Stuart McCloskey in action against Italy.
ANDY FARRELL MADE no bones about the fact that he was unimpressed by the output of his midfield combo during Ireland’s World Cup warm-up win over Samoa last summer, but Stuart McCloskey and Robbie Henshaw responded in kind when they were paired together once more for Sunday’s Six Nations victory over Italy.
McCloskey was last week drafted into Farrell’s starting XV to go to work inside Henshaw, who had already starred for Ireland against France in Marseille a week earlier. And speaking in the aftermath of Ireland’s 36-0 success over Italy at the Aviva Stadium, the Ulster 12 revealed that Farrell had broached the topic of Bayonne earlier in the game-week as a means of laying down the gauntlet to his midfield duo.
McCloskey and Henshaw pored over additional video together during the week in an attempt to tighten their game as a tandem and it paid dividends against the Italians, with Ireland’s centres routinely combining to devastating effect.
“He mentioned to me personally and I think he mentioned something to Robbie personally as well,” said McCloskey.
“I don’t think that game (against Samoa) was probably a fair reflection. It’s the one before we go to the World Cup and it was an absolute monsoon there.
“But we took that on board and I think we worked really hard together this week to try to get a bit of synergy, I suppose, between us, and get on the same page.
“I think he (Farrell) knows me well enough by now. I’m pretty chilled about most things. I think he’s probably trying to get me fired up more than anything! It worked well with me. I don’t know what he said to Robbie but Robbie’s come back with the same sort of feedback.
“You’re thinking different things. ‘What did he say? Does he think I’m not working hard enough?’ But then you get over that, and I think Andy always just wants the guys to be at their best.”
Sunday’s performance was a timely reminder from McCloskey of his test-match credentials as an individual. Filling in for World Player of the Year nominee Bundee Aki, the Bangor man was good for 15 carries, three offloads, and laid on two tries for teammates.
Indeed, his excellent display was a further nudge towards the likely reality that McCloskey would be a 50-cap man if he was playing for any of a handful of Ireland’s fellow top-tier nations.
Instead, the 31-year-old has had to take the scenic route towards regular test contention. McCloskey debuted under Joe Schmidt during the 2015 Six Nations but earned just two further caps under the Kiwi in the following four years.
McCloskey has since lined out 13 times for Ireland under Farrell, however, with 10 of those caps coming in the last two and a half seasons.
And he bears no grudges about those years in the international wilderness. Not really, anyway.
“Yeah, it probably took me until I was 28, 29, to realise it’s not about me, either,” McCloskey explained.
I’d have loved to have got a better crack at the whip when I was 23 with Joe here but obviously, we didn’t see eye to eye and my face probably didn’t fit.
“It was probably a bit on me as well, it’s not all on him… Like, it takes you a while to get over your own ego, doesn’t it?
“You’re 23 and playing well for your province and not getting picked at international level and you think it’s the coach’s fault. There’s probably a bit of that in there.
“I don’t think it was all me now,” McCloskey laughed. “It was probably less me — but listen, it’s not the end of the world.
“I’m pretty happy with where I am now and really happy with the opportunities I’ve been given over the last two or three years, and with how good Andy has been to me.”News Related