Ulster’s John Cooney has cemented himself as many fans’ favourite to start for Ireland at the Six Nations, as he continued his magical start to the season on Friday, with yet another man of the match performance against Harlequins at the Stoop.
A week on from securing a late match-winning penalty at the Kingspan Stadium against the London side, the scrumhalf showed more heroics in the return fixture, amassing 19 points.
In what were testing conditions at times, the 29-year-old controlled the game expertly, but set the match alight with tries in both halves.
Cooney was on the receiving end of a brilliant attack from deep for his first try of the match, and while the likes of Billy Burns, Jacob Stockdale and Matt Faddes were the architects of this try, it is one of those inexplicable yet inexorable facts in sport that players in form seem to find themselves in the right place at the right time.
A sublime piece of individual skill, which included a deft grubber kick and footwork, saw Cooney go over for his second and put the game out of reach for the home side. Both tries were intersected by a try-saving tackle on fullback Ross Chisholm as well.
I'm sure Andy Farrell was planning changes with Ireland anyway, but how close are we to John Cooney being a guaranteed 6 Nations starter? Got to be close now
— Andrew McKenna (@talkMacca) December 14, 2019
After missing out on Joe Schmidt’s Rugby World Cup squad, the 8-cap international has bounced back in supreme fashion in both the Pro14 and the Champions Cup, and few would say that he is not one of the form players in Europe currently, let alone Ireland.
John COONEY, what a legend , Ireland starter for sure #suftum
— terry charleton (@terrycharleton) December 13, 2019
It would be an aberration if Cooney failed to make new coach Andy Farrell’s pre-Christmas training camp, and swathes of Irish fans are calling for the scrumhalf to start for Ireland in the Six Nations.
Conor Murray has been the first choice number nine for the best part of ten years now, and while he may not be at the level he was in 2018, it is Cooney’s form which may seem him usurped, as there is also talk of him making the British and Irish Lions squad in 2021.
Surely, with the way everyone is playing, the Ireland centres will have to be McCluskey & Ringrose. With Cooney at 9 and Byrne/Carty at 10 that's a ridiculously good attacking core to the back line! #IrishRugby #UlsterRugby
— Ah It's Kenny! (@UghEffortOfThis) December 14, 2019
Of course, some have noted that Cooney was against an under-strength Harlequins side, but that was not the first stellar performance he has put in this season. After scooping the man of the match gong in the opening round against Bath, he produced yet another try-scoring display against ASM Clermont a week later.
With four wins from four, his province are now in a great position to make the quarter-finals. This has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes in the space of a few months, and the halfback looks primed to revive his Test career.
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