PRO14 RUGBY: John Cooney is an injury blow for Ulster before Munster clash

Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney scores a try against Glasgow last weekend in Belfast
Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney scores a try against Glasgow last weekend in Belfast

Ulster are expected to be without the influential John Cooney for the trek to Munster in the final regular league game of the Guinness PRO14 season.

Cooney is understood to be following concussion protocols after he failed an HIA last weekend in the win over Glasgow.

With so much at stake in tomorrow’s game in Limerick is it a major blow to be without the Irish international.

While Paul Marshall would be the likely starter having been involved last weekend, it is understood Dave Shanahan will get the nod instead.

Ulster had hoped to be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Munster, but the loss of Cooney alongside backrow Jean Deysel will mute the side slightly.

While the majority of play-off permutations are already known for the PRO14 final series, there is still the position of third place in Conference B to be decided.

Edinburgh are currently sitting in third place, four points ahead of Ulster.

Ulster need to secure a try-scoring bonus point victory and then hope Edinburgh fail to collect any match points against Glasgow at Murrayfield.

However, Guinness PRO14 organisers were still to come to this paper to explain why this weekend’s game did not kick-off simultaneously.

In the past the final round of regular league games have all kicked off at the same time - but this season tomorrow’s matches are staggered throughout Saturday afternoon, evening and night.

It is the way most major competitions are played and it is to ensure no one could get a possible advantage by knowing the outcome of a match prior to another game kicking off.

However, Ulster’s game kicks-off at 5.35pm while the game in Scotland does not start until 7.45pm.

That does give a slight advantage to Edinburgh in that they will know exactly what they need to secure third place.

While the play-off series is important, a third place finish also secures an automatic place in next season’s European Champions Cup - which is a major goal for PRO14 clubs.

While there are remaining ifs, buts and maybes in respect of the final weekend, the fact the games do not kick-off at the same time does appear inconsistent this season.

It is believed Munster may field a weakened side given they have just come off the back of a European Cup semi-final and already have secured a home quarter-final in the play-off series.

That game - which incidentally the third placed team in Conference B (Edinburgh or Ulster) - is due to be played in Limerick next weekend .

Ulster head coach, Jono Gibbes, knows what is required from his side but acknowledged how difficult that would be.

“I think, anyone who’s ever been down there and played a Munster team down there at Thomond, you certainly do not go down there with a mind set of getting four tries against them easily at all,” he said.

“They’re a formidable opponent, a proud team down there and whoever pulls on that red jersey down there... it’s a big challenge for us.

“You know, we had to regroup a little after Saturday, get a bit of energy back and save it up because it will be ferocious for sure on Saturday, but we are up for the challenge.”

Ulster last won away to Munster in the Championship in May 2014 - Michael Heaney scoring a try and James McKinney kicking 14 points in a 19-17 win.