John Cooney believes that complacency is not a word that will feature in Ulster’s game plan tomorrow night in the second stanza of their Heineken Champions Cup shoot-out with the Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium.
A superb 25-24 victory at Parc y Scarlets last Friday recharged Ulster’s interest in Pool 4. But the Ireland scrum-half, one of Ulster’s go-to players in getting-out-of-jail moments over the past few seasons, is undoubtedly well aware that there have been some incredible turnarounds in Europe.
Take, for example, when Ulster lifted the European Cup back in 1999.
Toulouse had hammered Ebbw Vale 108-16 in France, but were beaten 19-11 in Wales in the return fixture. That handed Ulster that all-important quarter-final tie at Ravenhill, and the rest is history.
Cooney knows that Scarlets, even with some big guns absent, can be a very dangerous proposition, and can still blunt Ulster’s aspirations in Europe.
“I think it’s hard to be complacent when you’re back here (in Belfast).
“It’s important, Dan showed us a lot of teams who have come away with big away wins and then come home and lost.
“We know that’s a danger, especially with a team who are out of the European Cup now, and can’t do much more than throw the ball around.
“They’re a pretty dangerous outfit when they’re that good attacking, so we just have to play our own game and try not to fall into sloppy turnover rugby.”
Cooney saw parallels between last Friday’s win and Ulster’s victory at the Stoop last season.
“I was thinking it was pretty similar to the Harlequins game. In the snow last year we manned up. They’re both really good attacking outfits.
And what of his international aspirations, Six Nations, World Cup? “At the end of last season I hadn’t made the Six Nations or the November series, and I told myself that all I can do is keep playing well,” said Cooney.
Now one of the leaders at Ulster, Cooney has made four appearances in Joe Schmidt’s reign and was part of Ireland’s successful autumn campaign last month.
“I remember sitting down with my sister, and her saying ‘you’ve just got to keep knocking on the door!” So I’ve just got to play well for Ulster, and if that’s enough, it’s enough, and if it’s not, it’s not. My main goal is just to play well.”
So far so good on that front, as he has become one of leaders at Ulster, by natural ability rather than choice.
“I think it’s a bit of both,” said Cooney. “Dealing with injuries over a few years I think I’ve developed a mental aspect to my game a lot more, and I think off the back of that, just becoming more a leader kind of came into my game. I think as you get a bit older you understand rugby a bit better and you try to help the younger lads and I think it’s just something you can improve and grow into as a player.”
n Connacht will install additional temporary terracing at the Sportsground for their interprovincial clashes against Ulster and Munster. Connacht take on Ulster on Friday, December 28 and Munster on Saturday, January 5, both games kicking off at 7.35pm.