RugbyThe Offload

Stuart McCloskey to see out Ulster contract despite Top 14 interest

Ireland centre will remain at Ravenhill until the end of the 2025 season

Ulster set for player exodus

Stuart McCloskey is set to see out his contract at Ulster despite interest from a number of sides in France’s Top 14.

The centre had previously been linked with a move to Bayonne, though any prospects of a move appeared to have ended last month after the club announced the signing of England centre Manu Tuilagi.

Montpellier were also believed to have shown an interest, but it has now emerged that McCloskey will see out his contract which expires at the end of the 2025 season.

Given a move this year would have come during his ongoing deal, it is likely that some sort of buyout would have been required to secure his services before then.


Remaining at Ulster ensures that the 31-year-old centre will maintain his Ireland eligibility for another year at least.

McCloskey aside, UIster seem set for a player exodus at the end of this season. Steven Kitshoff will return to South Africa two years before the end of his contract. Billy Burns has been announced as a new signing for Munster while Will Addison, Luke Marshall, Dave Ewers, Eric O’Sullivan and Greg Jones are all expected to depart as well.

However, in contrast to his team-mates, McCloskey is set to be available to whoever Ulster appoint to take over from Dan McFarland on a permanent basis. At this stage, interim head coach Richie Murphy is widely regarded as the front-runner for that role.

Who’s next for Sevens?

With news emerging that Ulster’s Rob Baloucoune has been approached to join Ireland’s Sevens programme in advance of the Olympics, thoughts quickly move to which other Irish 15s players could follow the path of Antoine Dupont.

“I have been contacted about being in the extended squad,” Baloucoune said last week. “That is the only thing I have been told, not too much [else] has come up to me. I literally just received an email saying, ‘extended squad’.”

Last December, IRFU performance director David Nucifora acknowledged that one player from each province could be selected with an eye to the Paris games.

“More than likely that player will be a player that has come through the Sevens programme at some stage, so they’re familiar with the game,” said Nucifora at the time.

It now appears that Baloucoune is the Ulster representative on that list. Who could be in contention from the other three provinces?

Leinster’s Hugo Keenan would be a strong option. He both fulfils Nucifora’s criteria of having Sevens experience and is the type of all-round athlete who can thrive in a format where speed, catch-pass skills and last-ditch tackling are of upmost importance.

“No, like, it would be very cool to do,” said Keenan in November when asked about Paris. “I obviously loved my time with the Sevens, I did 2½, three years with them.

“I’d like to think I helped them qualify for the last one in Tokyo [in 2021]. My last ever Sevens event was the qualifier to get them into the World Repechage. It’s exciting for Dupont and the lads to do it but I’m back with Leinster. My big target this year is that European Cup and yeah, I’m just focusing on that.

Jimmy O’Brien is another Leinster man with history in Sevens, as does Will Connors. In Munster, Shane Daly has the most Sevens experience while Connacht’s Andrew Smith was a regular on the circuit until recently. Shane Jennings and Conor Oliver have also come up through the Sevens programme.