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'He’s a big game player' - Cooney ready for possible Six Nations debut

The Ulster scrum-half provides back-up to the returning Conor Murray against England.

HE HAS FOUR international caps to his name already, but there’s little doubt that tomorrow will be the biggest occasion yet for John Cooney in an Ireland shirt if he gets off the bench.

With Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion out injured, the Ulster scrum-half provides back-up to the returning Conor Murray for the Six Nations opener against England [KO 4.45pm, Virgin Media One].

John Cooney Cooney at Ireland's captain's run today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Not that Cooney is only in this position because of the injuries to his rivals in Ireland’s scrum-half pecking order. The 28-year-old has been superb for Ulster over the last two seasons, having shifted north from Connacht in 2017, and deserves his shot.

Even recently, the halfback returned from a back issue to shine for his province in their Heineken Champions Cup win over Leicester, coming off to bench as Ulster made a stirring comeback to secure a quarter-final place.

His Test career so far amounts to 83 minutes across four appearances against Japan, Australia, USA and Italy, with his first and only start having arrived against the US last November.

Although it seems likely that Murray will play the majority of tomorrow’s game, Cooney is well primed to make his Six Nations debut if called upon.

His provincial and international captain, Rory Best, says Cooney has shown an ability to step up for his team in tough circumstances.

“I think he’s been really good for us,” says Best. “I think John has carried a few niggles into big games for us when we needed him to play.

“He came back in that Leicester game and gave us that injection, while I think we were a lot better at the breakdown when he came on, to be fair to Dave Shanahan.

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John Cooney Cooney offers a goal-kicking option. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But little moments like that touchline conversion to take it from 13-5 to 13-7; they’re massive moments because that automatically gets us to a point that if we score again we have a conversion to go ahead.

“They’re the little moments that John has been really big in. Look, he’s a big game player and he’s going to need that.

“Like anything, you need a little bit of luck and he’s got that little bit of luck with the two boys who have been brilliant every time something has been asked of them – Luke and Kieran Marmion, they have really stepped up. They’re both injured now.

“It’s unfortunate for them but it’s a massive opportunity for Coons and I have no doubt that if and when he’s called upon he will step up and he will be big in the game.”

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Murray Kinsella

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