Ulster’s Cooney is in the zone

Ulsters John Cooney has started well this season
Ulsters John Cooney has started well this season

It was billed as the impossible job replacing Ulster’s talisman Ruan Pienaar in the No9 shirt but John Cooney - who won his first Ireland cap during the summer tour - has taken to the task with aplomb.

The former Leinster and Connacht pivot has been instrumental in Ulster’s first two wins against the Cheetahs and Treviso.

In Italy last Saturday Cooney made a try saving tackle, charged down an attempted clearance leading to Jacob Stockdale’s try and was awarded the man of the match accolade.

“I’m was happy enough against the Cheetahs and I had some good touches against Treviso but I think there is a lot more to come as this is a big game where we’ll have to deliver again this week,” said Cooney.

“It’s good to be thrown in at the deepend as you either sink or swim and I’ve been happy with the way I played in the first two games.”

One of the main attractions for Cooney to leave Connacht and head for the Kingspan Stadium was the lure of more game time.

“That’s huge and I think even in terms of training you get a lot more reps and each day you get to play with the team and you get those connections. That’s something I’ve found to be a lot better.

“Those training sessions make a big difference come game time when you get 60 or 70 minutes a game instead of coming on for five.

“Each week you come off the field and you feel that you’ve improved that bit more.”

Cooney is enjoying being coached by former British Lions scrum half Dwayne Peel who arrived at Ulster from Bristol in the close season.

“He’s been huge and it’s such a good thing to have as a scrum-half.

“He’s knows exactly what I’m meant to do and he’s shown me loads of footage and has improved parts of my game that make all the difference and I’m really enjoying working with him.”

The Dubliner and Australian international Christian Leali’ifano are blossoming as a half back partnership.

“It’s been great and it’s been pretty easy to make that connection with him early on. He’s a very positive person so I find if I give him the ball he’ll work his magic. He’s a gifted player so it’s enjoyable.”

Ulster face their first big test of the season tomorrow night as defending champions and Conference B leaders the Scarlets roll into town.

The Welsh side have a maximum 10 points from their opening two games and Cooney knows Ulster’s defence will need to be better than it has been in the opening two games.

“They’re a good team and they delivered really well on the big stage last season.

“I remember coming on last season and they scored a try late on and a they are a team that play throughout the 80 minutes.

“They’ve performed well over the first two games and they’ve got 10 points. But I think we can get our attack and defence structure right we can put them under a bit of pressure.

“Defence is one of the key structures for us so we need to make sure that we get our spacing a bit better and I think we will as we have been working on it.

“We’ll set a bit wider and get people to go out a bit wider and it’s something we’ve been working on.

“It’s a big game and we’re at home so that adds a bit of incentive for us - it is a huge match for us.

“They’re a quality attacking outfit and I think we need to put them under a bit of pressure.”