Ulster head coach Dan McFarland was left amazed by another John Cooney masterclass in their 34-10 triumph over Harlequins – but assured the scrum-half’s “head won’t get too big” .
One week after Cooney held his nerve to slot a late penalty that snatched victory away from Quins in Belfast, he put in another man-of-the-match display to frustrate the Londoners.
Crossing for two tries, making a try-saving tackle and adding nine points from the tee, it was vintage Cooney once more – with McFarland understandably ecstatic with the Heineken Champions Cup’s most in-form number nine.
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“It’s one week after another with John,” said McFarland. “There was a great moment – we spent about five minutes trying to work out how he grubbered the ball through off that ruck [for his second try].
“We can’t work out how he did it and I asked him afterwards and he didn’t know how he did it either!
“The bit that I loved was him chasing back to tackle Ross Chisholm – that was a pretty crucial stage in the game.
“For John to show the pace and energy to do that is fantastic. He’s playing well, definitely. Don’t worry, his head won’t get too big!”
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Cooney’s try just before the break gave Ulster a 10-3 half-time lead before they pulled away in the second period – Cooney again, Luke Marshall, Matt Faddes and Tom O’Toole crossing in a bonus-point win.
The result means they are top of Pool Three ahead of a potentially-decisive trip to Clermont Auvergne in round five.
“Our destiny is definitively in our own hands,” added McFarland. “You top your group and you’ve got a good chance of a home quarter-final but to do that we’ve got to get past a certain Clermont away from home.”
Meanwhile, Quins director of rugby Paul Gustard bristled at the suggestion after the game that he may have regretted not considering the likes of Danny Care, Joe Marler and Chris Robshaw for selection.
“It had absolutely zero bearing on the game. It’s irrelevant, absolutely irrelevant,” said an obviously irritated Gustard.
“The first half was good – we defended resiliently, in fact magnificently. They battered away at us but couldn’t score.
“We had field position with a minute and a half to go, then a set-piece defence error and they go the length and score. Bit of a thunderbolt.
“The second half wasn’t good enough at all – we got bullied at the maul and they won every single high ball. A really disappointing second half.
“Cooney kept putting up high bombs and it was death by a thousand cuts. It wasn’t good enough for a Harlequins team and it wasn’t good enough for a team at home either.
“The good thing is the game stops at 80 minutes – if you carry it over into the week, then you’ll have an adverse reaction the following weekend.”
– Press Association
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