Cooney braced for more punishment as Connacht clash looms

Scrumhalf carries fresh memories of last December’s chastening visit to Sportsground

As if things weren't tricky enough for John Cooney in taking on his former Connacht team-mates, the Ulster scrumhalf is heading towards tomorrow's interprovincial clash sporting yet another head wound from his own personal experience of the northern province's horrible record defeat at Munster.

The 64-7 spanking meted out to Dan McFarland's injury-hit side at Thomond Park by a rampant Munster, with Joey Carbery and Peter O'Mahony in the ascendant, has, naturally, cut Ulster deep as indeed did Cooney's accidental collision with Rory Scannell just after the half-hour mark.

The 28-year-old had come into the Munster game with a head injury sustained against the Cheetahs, which required nine stitches, and picked up another five on a new wound after taking the hit moments after removing his head guard which enforced his early departure from the carnage which was Thomond Park.

“I’ve two lacerations in my head now and I think I’ve got about 14 stitches altogether,” he said though he is still expected to play on Friday night and, this time, keep his head guard on during plays.

“I think my ego isn’t great after that result,” Cooney added with another nod to the Munster game.

“It was pretty bleak on Monday watching it back but you’ve got to take the learnings and as they say ‘the sun always rises the next day.’”

The nine tries Ulster coughed up also entered their record books for the wrong reasons and, as Cooney pointed out, defence has been an area where most of the cramming has been done ahead of meeting Connacht in Belfast, a venue the western province have failed to win at since 1960.

Special attention

While Ulster’s primary goal-kicker is totally focused on winning this game, he is also well aware that special attention will be paid to him by some of his former team-mates.

Last December, Ulster were also on the wrong end of a 44-16 result at the Sportsground when Cooney had a torrid time against his Ireland rival Kieran Marmion et al and, with Conor Murray sidelined, Ulster's No 9 knows he just has to put on a performance tomorrow evening for Joe Schmidt – especially if his rival plays.

“It [the experience of returning to Galway] was up there with the Munster result. I remember last year a few lads were hitting me late and talking to me during the game,” he recalls while evidently upping the ante.

“I think they were celebrating when Finlay [Bealham] hit me late and got away with it and I’d say I’d be getting a few of them again. It was one of the sorest I was after a game and I remember Bundee [Aki] hit me a good few times too. I don’t have any doubt that this week we’ll man up.”

A strong result and good performance look non-negotiable.