Ulster’s powerhouse centre Stuart McCloskey has “the full package” to cause a stir in the RBS Six Nations, according to team-mate Luke Marshall.
Marshall hailed the “freakish” McCloskey as ready for his Test debut, ahead of Ireland boss Joe Schmidt naming his Six Nations training squad.
Uncapped centre McCloskey is expected to be named in Ireland’s squad on Wednesday, alongside fellow newcomers Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander.
Cornerstone props Mike Ross and Cian Healy should be selected despite both Leinster front-rowers facing a race against time to be fit for the opening fixture against Wales on Sunday, February 7.
“Stuart’s far bigger than any other centre at Ulster,” Marshall said of provincial team-mate McCloskey.
“And in Ireland, let alone Ulster, that’s freakish, we just don’t make centres that big.
“Yes he’s got the size, but he’s also got the skills to back that up. He’s got good hands, he’s quick and can kick too.
“I’d say he’s got the full package and it’s not hard to see why he’s pushing for the international call now.”
Leinster’s highly-rated 20-year-old centre Ringrose should be another uncapped addition to Schmidt’s squad, while Munster flanker Stander is itching for action after completing his three-year residency qualification.
Six-cap centre Marshall should also feature in Ireland’s wider squad, boosting boss Schmidt’s midfield options after impressing in his move to 13 this term.
McCloskey, Ringrose and Marshall’s form could help Ireland offset the potential short-term loss of battering ram Robbie Henshaw, if the Connacht centre fails to beat his hand injury in time to face Wales.
Talismanic captain Paul O’Connell’s post-World Cup Test retirement leaves an obvious chasm in both Ireland’s second row and their leadership ranks.
Head coach Schmidt must select a new captain for a new cycle, with experienced hands Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Rory Best all touted for the job.
Marshall threw his weight behind Best’s candidacy, hailing the Ulster skipper’s inspirational half-time team talk in the remarkable 24-23 Champions Cup comeback win in Oyonnax.
Best’s home truths kick-started Ulster to turn their 23-0 deficit on its head in the thrilling January 10 victory, leaving Marshall extolling his provincial captain’s virtues for the vacant Test role.
“Rory was pretty truthful, he was pretty angry about how we’d played: it was a reality check,” said Marshall of Best’s key pep talk in France.
“He was angry but still was very calm and spoke with a lot of confidence. He told us that even at that stage we could still come back into the game and get a result.
“He spoke with such conviction that it just concentrated our minds and gave us a huge boost to go out there and turn it around.
“He’s an incredible player and someone who leads from the front. That’s one of the first things you look for in a captain.
“But he speaks very well throughout the week, not just before and during a match.
“Throughout the week in training he keeps everyone focused and knows when to talk and when it’s not needed.
“He’s the type of guy that everyone in the squad can really identify with, he doesn’t hold himself higher or above anyone else, he’s just one of the guys.
“He’s as proud as anyone to play for his province. All those things make him the great captain he is.
“He’s hard-working, honest and I think certainly Ireland, if they make him captain, it would be a great selection and a selection I’d endorse definitely.”