It would be hard to find any player that has ever bounced back from the misery of missing out on a place at a World Cup better than Ulster’s John Cooney has this season. 

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The scrum-half was a controversial omission from Joe Schmidt’s squad to travel to Japan in September, but he has channelled any disappointment he may have felt with some brilliant club form so far this winter. 

The eight-cap Ireland international is to date the Guinness PRO14’s top scorer this campaign, helping to steer Ulster to second place in their conference. However, it is in the Heineken Champions Cup where he has made the greatest impact so far. 

In their opening game of the tournament, the 29-year-old put in a man of the match performance away at Bath before a try-scoring display against Clermont a week later in their win at the Kingspan Stadium. 

He was thrown into the limelight again last weekend with more heroics, kicking a match-winning penalty against Harlequins. The scrum-half has since taken to Instagram to share a photo with a cryptic caption ahead of Ulster’s rematch this Friday with the Londoners:

“Two roads diverged in a woods, and I —

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I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference…”

This post is a reference to Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ about not following the mainstream path in life, rather going alone. 

Now looking like Ireland’s form nine and tipped to be selected for Andy Farrell’s Ireland’s pre-Christmas training camp and Six Nations squad, Cooney has had to effectively do this alone. 

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Then again, such a disappointment as missing out on the RWC has perhaps been the motivation that Cooney has needed for this upturn in form and ultimately it has put him in a better position for his province and country than he would have been in if he went to Japan. 

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