Ulster v Connacht: John Cooney targets double celebration against former team mates in Guinness PRO14 play-off tie

Ulster's John Cooney
Ulster's John Cooney
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Birthday boy John Cooney is hoping he will have extra reason to celebrate a belated party tomorrow night.

The Ulster scrumhalf turned 29 on Wednesday and the plans have been kept under wrap in spite of Connacht’s Jack Carty letting a few things slip on social media.

Irrespective, Cooney is hoping there will be double celebrations, with the most important thing to enjoy being a win over Connacht at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (5:35pm) when the Provinces meet in a Guinness PRO14 semi-final qualifier.

Ulster are seeking their first win over the Westerners this season having suffered a rare double defeat.

Connacht’s win earlier this year was their first in Belfast since 1960 - and indeed they are the only side to have beaten Ulster at home this season.

The visitors is a club well known to Cooney, he had played with them previous to joining Ulster and has won a Guinness PRO12 Championship title with them.

Cooney, like all in the Ulster squad, is keen to give Connacht a third occasion to take bragging rights.

“It is a different Connacht, normally you have a Connacht with a chip on their shoulder,” said Cooney.

“They are coming here pretty confident having beaten us twice. They have started well against us, in the first 20 minutes they are 14-0 up against us in both games so we have analysed that and how important it is we start well this week.

“We started well in training on Tuesday so we know it is not going to come just automatically in the game, throughout the week we are just going to have to make sure everyone is clued in and they are training really well.”

Connacht’s wins at The Sportsground and Kingspan were close, and the latter fixture did see Ulster down to 14 players after a red card and then 13 with a yellow.

However, Ulster have come a long way from that defeat.

They have found form once again in Europe and for the first time have qualified for both the knockout stages in the Champions Cup and PRO14 since 2016.

They came close to upsetting defending European Champions Leinster in the Aviva Stadium last month, losing a quarter-final 21-18.

Cooney believes Ulster can draw much from that appearance in Dublin.

“I think it is something we can take a lot of workings from,” he said.

“It highlighted how important small moments are, and key margins.

“For myself I missed an easy kick, after the game I did not even notice anything Jacob (Stockdale) had done (n in reference to dropping a ball in an attempt to score a try) I had completely forgotten about it.

“For me my role was to get the kicks and I missed an easy one.

“It is a collective of individuals, we all have to make sure we get out roles now.

“I know that now and I know going into this game we can take a lot of learnings from that play-off game,” added Cooney.

Both Ulster and Connacht will confirm their matchday squads at lunchtime on Friday.