JOHN COONEY: Two wounds and 14 stitches

Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney goes off during the Munster game
Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney goes off during the Munster game

Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney how has two wounds and a total of 14 stitches to the right side of his side following a bruising encounter with Munster in Limerick last Saturday night.

Cooney needed nine stitches in a cut during the game against Southern Kings almost three weeks ago.

He wore a head protector for Ulster’s visit to Thomond Park on the weekend, but he took it off during the first half and as sod’s law would have he suffered another cut.

“I think I am up to 14 stitches now,” said Cooney, showing the two lacerations to the media corps at Kingspan Stadium on Wednesday for the weekly pre-match briefing ahead of the visit of Connacht on Friday night.

Cooney explained that he removed the head gear because he was “over-heating”.

“We were 20-odd points down at the time and I just felt I needed to make a play,” he said.

“I just took it off and in that first play I went down and took a knee to the head.”

“I think it will be glued to my head this week,” smiled the halfback.

In spite of bearing the scars of battle, Cooney said he had recovered to be fit to face his former Province at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster suffered a record loss (64-7) against Munster and Cooney, who said hie ego had perhaps taken a knocking, said the result had been put behind them now.

“We were pretty annoyed on Monday and like anything you cannot concentrate on anything too much. You have got to take your learnings.

“It was pretty bleak on Monday watching it again, but as they say the sun rises the next day, so went to work again and today (Wednesday) was one of the best training sessions we have done.

“However, talk is cheap and we will have to see how it goes on Friday.”

In terms of the loss to Munster, Cooney admitted they had learned a lot defensively.

“Certainly as individuals we’ve learnt a lot in terms of making reads and things like that which is important for some of the more experienced lads to make sure we’re not doing anything stupid,” said Cooney.

“I think a few people let themselves down at the weekend and we’ll have learnt a lot now in terms of our space and getting too tight.

“Just the onus on our backs to communicate to the forwards to get a bit wider and things like that.

“I think Jared (Payne, defence coach), was pulling out his hair, I think we’ve learnt from it.”

Last season Connacht inflicted a heavy loss on Ulster in Galway and Cooney admitted it hurt just as much as the Munster routing on Saturday.

However, in one of the most remarkable unbeaten statistics, Connacht have not win in Belfast since November 1960.

And Cooney admits that it does feature in the build-up for the Connacht players.

He recalls when he was with the Western Province not so long ago coming to Kingspan Stadium and just losing.

“It was only two or three years ago that the loss was only seven or eight points. It (the record) was talked about then and I am sure it will be on their minds again.

“Connacht will be confident after seeing us losing at the weekend and I know if we start well and put them under a bit of pressure it will be vital.

“Starting well is something that we have not done for the first five games and it is something we have been highlighting a lot.

“We want to get going at the start of games. Yes we take the positives from finishing really strongly as we have done in the first four games, but if we get a 60-80 minute performance I think we will be a lot stronger.”

The game is almost certainly going to throw up a personal battle at nine against Kieran Marmion, who like Cooney, will be vying for the Ireland number nine shirt come next month’s international series.

With Munster’s Conor Murray out indefinitely, there will be a great opportunity for Cooney or Marmion to state their case for first choice scrumhalf.

“I am keeping the same mentality as last year. I need to be playing my best here with Ulster and I cannot be looking too far ahead because that is when I will not perform.

“I am a confidence player and it makes a big difference. If I do not play well for Ulster I cannot be looking to far ahead.”