Ulster’s John Cooney relishing head-to-head with Antoine Dupont

Antoine Dupont has scored tries in his last two matches against Ulster and the Toulouse scrum-half was instrumental in France, winning the Grand Slam and he is current world player of the year.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Saturday, 9th April 2022, 7:00 am

John Cooney will go head-to-head with Dupont as Ulster face Toulouse at the Stade Ernest-Wallon on Saturday afternoon (3.15pm) in the first leg of the European Champions Cup last 16 clash.

“He’s playing unbelievable at the moment,” stated Cooney about the Six Nations Player of the tournament.

“He doesn’t have too many weaknesses. His defensive game, he probably doesn’t get the plaudits that he should because his attacking game is so good but even his kicking game - he kicks the ball a long way for a smaller guy.

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BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - NOVEMBER 22: John Cooney of Ulster Rugby kicks a conversion during the Heineken Champions Cup Round 2 match between Ulster Rugby and ASM Clermont Auvergne at Ravenhill Stadium on November 22, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

“We have to defend him as best we can but if we concentrate too much on that then we’ll leave space elsewhere. We have to do what we usually do, stay within our systems, but if we can contain him a bit more than other teams have done then that’ll go a long way.

“I’ve locked horns now with Dupont a couple of times. He’s an incredible player and I’ll look forward to facing him again.”

Ulster need to come up with a plan to do what so many other teams at club and international level have failed to do and stop Dupont running the game.

“Jared Payne could answer better than me,” laughed Cooney.

“As a nine, we’re defending on the edge so for me it’s trying to follow him if he’s running trail lines and try to get back and support my team and try and stop him that way.

“I think these European games in general, your preparation is that little bit more than usual. I probably think about the game a bit more in my free time as well.

“It’s only natural that I’m thinking about the player that’s going to be across from me as well. I’ve obviously watched him a lot through the Six Nations and watched their game at the weekend.

“We all know what he can do, how he can pull things out of nothing. I’m sure I’ll be concentrating that bit more on what I can do to impact our team but still trying to negate him in whatever way I can.”

With he game being played over two legs Cooney feels it is a step into the unknown for Ulster.

“It’s definitely unusual, I’ve never played in a game like this before. In the past, we’ve played teams back-to-back before.

“When I was on loan once I played the Dragons back-to-back with two different teams.

“It’s not unusual to play the same team two weeks in a row but the aggregate score is going to be interesting.

“Decisions will be a little bit different throughout the game if you’re thinking about that aggregate, whether you take the points or tries first.”

Cooney partners Billy Burns at half-back after the No10 sat out last week’s defeat by the Bulls.

There is a first European start for winger Ben Moxham.

Eric O’Sullivan gets the nod at loosehead prop with Alan O’Connor restored to the second row.

Ulster: (15-9) Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, John Cooney; (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.