There is only one place to start. This is unloading.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Stuart McCloskey is one of a select few capable of producing a play like the one that set up Luke Marshall’s first-half try for Ulster against Connacht. It was a luxurious moment of mastery.
Once again, the 30-year-old McCloskey emphasized that the old nickname “Bangor Bulldozer” just doesn’t fit him. He can bulldoze, all right, but we’ve yet to see a John Deere that has McCloskey’s finesse as well.
It’s instant, but there’s a lot to this discharge. Ulster have the advantage from the penalty spot, which favors McCloskey’s willingness to try something different.
His vision is impressive. Ulster centre-back Tom Daly is very close to Connacht under-half Conor Fitzgerald, leaving an attractive space between Daly and center partner Tom Farrell.
In McCloskey’s shoes, many players would try to exploit that space with a short pre-contact pass to Luke Marshall. Indeed, this seems to have been expected by Marshall himself.
Watch above as he slows down his run to catch a pass before contact, then has to speed up again to go offload.
McCloskey sees the situation differently. His confidence in his physical assets – long arms at 6ft 4in, 110kg frame, very strong grip and his balance – and his one-handed offloading skills mean he sees space behind the defense to pass in contact.
McCloskey braces himself to be steady enough to handle Fitzgerald’s first tackle and maintain control of the ball even with one hand as he stretches it behind Daley and releases just before Daley turns into a tackle.
Marshall, stuttering as he runs in front of a possible pre-contact pass, then reacts quickly to take the ball from behind and cross to score.
That pass attempt was McCloskey’s only carry of the game, but he had six assists, striking a fine balance between carry and handoff.
Ulster often use him as the first set-piece receiver, so he can provide both options, and his first touch on Saturday night was in that role.
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Originally posted at 6:28 p.m