Six Nations: Stuart McCloskey must pick himself up after omission from Ireland squad - Andy Ward

Stuart McCloskey
McCloskey has not played for Ireland since November 2018

Stuart McCloskey cannot allow his latest international setback to affect his strong club form says former Ireland back row Andy Ward.

Ulster's McCloskey was one of the surprise omissions from head coach Andy Farrell's 35-man Six Nations squad.

The 27-year-old has been in excellent form this season but was not among the four centres named by Farrell.

"I'm disappointed for Stuart because he's added strings to his bow in terms of his playing ability," said Ward.

"What he has been for Ulster is superbly consistent, and has been picking up man of the match awards here, there and everywhere.

"I'm sure he's disappointed but he's a true professional. He'll keep playing and plugging away, still putting on that white shirt and still doing a cracking job for Ulster."

Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell will again form Ireland's centre options as they did at last year's World Cup in Japan.

Andy Ward
Andy Ward made 28 appearances for Ireland between 1998 and 2001

McCloskey's third and most recent Ireland appearance came against the USA in November 2018.

"Ireland are blessed with a couple of cracking players there, you could pick from any one of five or six players," Ward continued.

"The nature of the beast with this game is that anything could happen at any given time."

Sexton the right man for the role

On Wednesday Farrell named fly-half Johnny Sexton as his captain, with the 34-year-old taking over the reins from the retired Rory Best.

The Leinster skipper is in a race to be fit for the Six Nations opener against Scotland in Dublin on 1 February.

If fully recovered from a knee injury sustained last month, the tournament opener will be Sexton's first time leading out his country on home soil.

"Johnny demands a certain standard from players and you can see that in the way he plays himself," said former Ulster captain Ward, who made 28 international appearances.

"He's got excellent leadership qualities and he's in a pivotal position where he pulls the strings for the whole team."

Johnny Sexton
Sexton captained Ireland from the start for the first time against Russia at the World Cup

Sexton's appointment ends a period of speculation that followed the World Cup over who would be named captain.

The fly-half was one of the favourites for the role, while 23-year-old lock James Ryan was consistently mentioned among potential candidates.

"Someone like James Ryan I think is going to be a really good shout so maybe in another season.

"James is still a young player although he's been there and done a lot in his short career but I certainly see him as one earmarked for the future.

"It'll be interesting to see how he pitches up in the next couple of seasons. Is he going to be a man with a voice?

"I know he's certainly for the respect of the players but Johnny Sexton certainly at this stage is probably the one to go for."