Pro14: John Cooney proud to reach 50-cap milestone for Ulster

John Cooney scored two tries for Ulster against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth
John Cooney scored two tries for Ulster against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth
Pro14: Ulster v Zebre
Date: Friday 1 November Time: 19:35 GMT Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sport website

John Cooney hopes to impress new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell over the coming months having put his Rugby World Cup disappointment behind him.

The scrum-half, who is set to earn his 50th cap for Ulster off the bench in Friday's Pro14 home game against Zebre, was omitted from the Irish squad.

Cooney says he didn't 'sulk' and has made a superb start to Ulster's season.

"I get on well with Faz [Farrell] and I hope I am the player he likes in defence and in attack," Cooney said.

"Things are always uncertain when a new coach comes in, I've been on the wrong side of them before at Leinster when Matt O'Connor came in.

"You never know what they think of you or whether they want you in their plans.

"So there are no certainties I'll be in that squad but all I can do is the same as the last two years and try to play well every week."

John Cooney scored two tries for Ulster against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth
John Cooney scored two tries for Ulster against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth

Cooney, 29, is the second-highest points scorer after four rounds of the Pro14 with 38 points - two behind Ruan Pienaar, the man he replaced as Ulster's number nine.

The former Leinster and Connacht player established himself as a fans' favourite in record time and admits he's been eyeing up the 50-cap milestone for Ulster since the season started.

Cooney said: "It's something I've been looking forward to, it was the first personal milestone I wanted to get to".

"To do it in two and a bit years, whereas in three years at Connacht I only just got over the 40 caps, it is nice."

Cooney revealed on Radio Ulster's Sportsound Extra Time programme that he told outgoing Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt exactly how he felt about his decision not to take him to Japan for the World Cup.

But now he is keen to move on and showcase his talents at the place he feels most valued.

"I was obviously very disappointed but it's not going to get me too far if I'm sitting at home sulking or feeling sorry for myself.

"It was nice to get home and just be where I'm appreciated, or liked.

"I was annoyed, but I was happy to be home. I enjoy the environment and the speed we're playing with and I'm feeling good in these first few games."

Stop-start Ulster

Zebre only lost 3-0 at home to Leinster last weekend, which suggests they will be hard for Ulster to break down on Friday night.

Ulster have won three of their opening four Pro14 games but performances have been mixed within games.

However with a trip to Munster to come next weekend, followed by a relentless period of 12 Heineken European Cup and Pro14 games in as many weeks including the Zebre game, a big win over the Italians would be a timely confidence boost.

"It's hugely important," Cooney said.

"We do find it easy to get up for these games at home and it would be nice getting some momentum going into these European games and get a 60-80 minute performance rather than a 20-30 minute performance that we've produced in the last few games.

"There's a lot to work on rather than be content with how we played."

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