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“I’d rather fill big boots than small ones,” says confident Cooney

Daniel Barnes

15 Aug 2017

John Cooney says that he is not scared of filling the considerable void left by Ruan Pienaar at Ulster.

The South African scrum-half was a fan favourite at the Kingspan Stadium before being forced to leave by the IRFU’s succession policy requiring an Irish-qualified scrum-half in Belfast.

But Cooney doesn’t feel any pressure in replacing a man who scored almost 1000 points for Ulster over seven years.

“It’s a big deal him leaving but I prefer coming in where a big player has been before because I love a challenge”, the 27-year-old said.

“It’s a big challenge but that’s what I’m here for. Playing time was the main thing. With Ruan leaving I thought I could get games here.”

Cooney revealed that thoughts immediately turned to his own career when news broke last August that Pienaar would depart at the end of 2016-17.

“I remember hearing about it on the radio, that he’d had to leave,” said Cooney.

“I just thought straight away that there’d be an opportunity there. I texted my agent saying it would be great for me.

“I was hoping Ulster would get on to me about it and a few weeks later, they did. It was all pretty straightforward.”

Cooney is desperate to make up for lost time after a lack of regular playing time at his previous club Connacht, where he was often forced to play second fiddle to Kieran Marmion.

“When I went to Connacht, Kieran was going well and I’d had three shoulder surgeries, which set me back.


“Since then, I’ve had seven or eight months injury-free and want to press on.

“Me and Kieran; the games were sometimes split between us but I want to start the big games.

“I don’t want to be starting one week and out the next.”