Concern for Ulster as half-back pair doubts for Leicester trip

The loss of John Cooney and Billy Burns would be a blow for the northern province.

BOTH JOHN COONEY and Billy Burns are major injury doubts for Ulster’s Heineken Champions Cup trip to Welford Road on Saturday afternoon, as the province bid to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in five years.

Cooney suffered a back spasm in training last week and missed the famous victory over Racing 92 at Kingspan Stadium, while out-half Burns picked up a calf strain in that match. 

John Cooney goes off injured Cooney suffered a back spasm last week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cooney was named in Dan McFarland’s starting team for the visit of the French side to Belfast, but was a late withdrawal from the side after failing a late fitness test. 25-year-old Dave Shanahan deputised in the nine jersey.

Burns, meanwhile, sustained a calf problem on Saturday night and will have a scan today to determine the exact prognosis. 

The loss of their first-choice half-back pairing would be a blow ahead of Ulster’s pivotal Pool 4 game against Leicester Tigers [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport].

McFarland’s side are currently second behind Racing on 18 points and they travel to Welford Road knowing victory over the Tigers would guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since the 2013/14 season. 

The extent of Cooney’s back injury will be a concern for Joe Schmidt, too, after Luke McGrath suffered a serious-looking knee injury during Leinster’s bonus-point win over Toulouse on Saturday.

With Kieran Marmion still working his way back from ankle surgery, Conor Murray may be the only senior scrum-half fit and available ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations opener against England on 2 February. 

Ulster reported no other injuries from their 26-22 win over Racing.

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Ryan Bailey

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