John Cooney challenges Ulster to tighten up for Leinster showdown

Scrumhalf played starring role with haul of 30 points in bonus-point win over Scarlets

John Cooney has told his Ulster team-mates they must be more ruthless if they are to overturn Leinster on Friday night.

Ulster are unbeaten so far in this season’s United Rugby Championship and ran in seven tries to beat the Scarlets 55-39 in Llanelli on Saturday afternoon. The Irish province were razor sharp in attack with their physicality and the pace they were playing the game at was hugely impressive. But they were porous in defence, while their discipline allowed the Scarlets to get back into the game.

Cooney was happy with aspects of Ulster’s performance but insists it won’t be good enough to beat Leinster in Belfast unless they tighten up defensively. “We need to tidy up our discipline,” said the 32-year-old.

“We gave away some silly penalties, and some kicks we probably could have regained but we didn’t. We need to take the learnings from that.


“We need to refine some of the smaller edges. We need to be more clinical, and we need to be more ruthless.

“Leinster is probably the biggest game of the season where you learn these sorts of things. I thought in the first 20 minutes against Scarlets the speed of how quick we played was very good.

“I think it was a very close game, but we came out on top on some of the bigger moments.”

Ulster came out of the blocks firing in West Wales and hit the Scarlets for six not just with their physicality but the speed they put on the game. Alan O’Connor and Marty Moore crossed for early tries, and Ulster appeared to be cruising at 14-0, only for the Scarlets to hit back with two well-crafted scores from Jonathan Davies and Ryan Conbeer.

After Scarlets outhalf Sam Costelow got sent to the sin bin for taking Aaron Sexton out in the air Ulster took advantage with Cooney and Marcus Rea touching down to give them a half-time lead.

Scarlets refused to throw in the towel with Vaea Fifita and Dafydd Hughes (twice) scoring second-half tries but UIster were always one step ahead and they killed off the game with touchdowns from Billy Burns, Cooney, and Tom O’Toole.

Cooney was imperious, scoring 30 points which landed him the official player of the match award, while his game management was flawless. There are many who believe Cooney deserves an Ireland recall but the man himself insists international recognition is far from his mind. However, he is keen to get stuck into Jamison Gibson-Park should Ireland’s incumbent number nine get selected for Leinster on Friday.

“For me it’s not really my main focus any more,” said Cooney when asked about his prospects of playing for Ireland again. “It’s just about playing well for Ulster.

“My goal is to play better than the opposite nine. I’ve always been really competitive.

“When I play these guys, I want to play as well as I can do. I want to come up against the best and Jamison Gibson-Park was immense last season.”