Stewart Moore: Ireland U20 star ready to come of age with Ulster

Stewart Moore
Moore scored one of the tries of the U20 World Championships against Australia

Stewart Moore's demeanour does not resemble that of a man who has just stepped off the plane after over 24 hours in transit.

Nor does he look like someone whose stellar U20 World Championship has been cut short by his third injury of the season.

Despite the shoulder pain and the fact that he had to give up his aisle seat on the flight back to injured team-mate John Hodnett, Moore appears positively chipper as we meet at the beginning of his 31st sleepless hour.

Perhaps it is delirium, or the fact that his special try against Australia has had hundreds of thousands of online views, but more likely it is because the 19-year-old County Antrim man knows he is well-placed to make a splash in Ulster's senior ranks as pre-season approaches.

Highly-rated by coaches and players at the province, the centre was quickly sent to train with the first team after joining the Academy last summer.

If the talent is under little scrutiny, his body's ability to cope with the rigours of professional rugby will come under the microscope after a lengthy injury list postponed any chance of earning a first senior cap last season.

Back-to-back concussions led to three months on the sidelines at the start of the year before a serious knee injury left the Malone clubman in a race against time to be fit for the World Championship.

"It has been a challenging year," he admits.

"Especially around the Six Nations period when the team became Grand Slam champions. It was class but obviously there was a hint of a jealousy there."

'I was being greedy'

Moore marked his return to fitness with an opportunistic score in Ireland's opening victory over England, capitalising on some hesitant English play to dive on a loose ball over the try-line.

If the first try gave a glimpse of a player with a much-valued 'rugby brain', his score in the next match demonstrated the individual brilliance that, if displayed consistently, separates the good players from the great.

Stewart Moore
"I got a wee bit caught up in it," says Moore of his post-try celebration

Collecting the ball on halfway before leaving five players in his wake, it was the sort of try on which a player's reputation as a game-changer is built.

"I wasn't even supposed to get the ball, it was supposed to miss me and go to the player on the outside," he laughs.

"I was being greedy and I took it on. I usually get caught from behind on those ones so it was nice to put it down.

"It's the first time I have reacted to a try, I got a wee bit caught up in it."

McFarland's faith in youth

A tournament-ending shoulder injury later in the same game was a cruel reminder of the highs and lows that accompany the career of any athlete, but Moore's showing in Argentina was enough to suggest Ulster fans have something else to be excited about.

From Moore's perspective there is little doubt that this season is the one in which he aims to make his mark.

Since Dan McFarland's arrival, the path from Academy to first team has become well-trodden with Michael Lowry, Eric O'Sullivan, Robert Baloucoune and James Hume among those to have broken through during the last campaign.

"Dan gives the younger ones big opportunities," says Moore.

"Mikey Lowry is a year above me, what he has done shows the rest of us that you can go from the Academy to being a senior player if you put the work in."

O'Sullivan, Baloucoune and Hume
Academy players Eric O'Sullivan, Robert Baloucoune and James Hume all made their senior debuts this season

Visible on-field improvements since McFarland and chief executive Jonny Petrie arrived in Belfast were reflected in Ulster's presence in the knock-out stages of both the Champions Cup and the Pro14.

The club as a whole, it is fair to say, appears to be in far better health than it was 12 months ago.

"It was my first season so I didn't really know what to expect, but Dan set the standards and it was clear from early on that everyone wanted to hit those standards," Moore says.

"Our motto is 'fight for every inch', I think we did that outstandingly."

Competition for places in Ulster's midfield will remain fierce with Stuart McCloskey, Will Addison and Luke Marshall all set to remain in Belfast during the World Cup.

It could be that Moore, who turns 20 a month before the new season begins, still has a while to wait to make his Ulster bow.

"I've had a taste of being around the first team," he says.

"But now it's time to push on and get as many caps as possible."