Bryan Keane/INPHO Player of the match Ulster's John Cooney pictured after the Scarlets game.
Work to do

Ulster must improve significantly to beat Leinster, says Cooney

The province flexed their muscles in Llanelli to put 55 points over the Welsh club.

JOHN COONEY insists Ulster will have to improve significantly if they are to overturn Leinster on Friday despite their seven-try victory over the Scarlets

Ulster flexed their muscles in Llanelli to put 55 points over the Welsh club on their own patch as they maintained their unbeaten start to the United Rugby Championship season. While their attack was razor sharp, they did concede 39 points, and Cooney has warned his teammates they must tighten up if they are to stand a chance of overturning Leinster in Belfast. 

“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 but the Scarlets hit back with two well-crafted scores from Jonathan Davies and Ryan Conbeer. 

After Scarlets out-half 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 anymore,” 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.” 

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