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Ulster look to Shanahan after Cooney loses battle for fitness


John Cooney.

Ulster were dealt a blow before yesterday's flight to Paris with the news that John Cooney will not feature in tonight's Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 (5.30pm UK time).

The influential scrum-half took a bang to the AC joint in his shoulder but Ulster had described themselves as "hopeful" over his participation earlier in the week.

In his absence, it will fall on 25-year old Dave Shanahan to pull on the No.9 jersey.

Ulster backs coach Dwayne Peel said earlier this week: "I think he has been good, to be fair.

"What's good for Shanners is he has had a good bit of rugby as well. Probably last year every game (Cooney) played, John played 80 minutes. Dave has had a lot of rugby over the last few weeks and he has been sharp in that area.

"Last week he came on and I think he added a bit of a spark as well. He's been good."

While the Dubliner already has four Champions Cup outings to his name, including finishing up last week when Cooney moved to No.10, Shanahan's back-up will be Jonny Stewart, who would be making his European debut should he get the call from the bench.

The promotion of Shanahan is one of only three changes to the side that beat the Tigers with the rest of the backline unchanged.

That means another start for Michael Lowry at full-back after the 20-year old impressed on his first senior start.

It will be a good test for Ulster's new centre pairing of Stuart McCloskey and Will Addison, while the head-to-head between Jacob Stockdale and Teddy Thomas down the same wing is another that will be really worth watching.

For all the attention on the hosts' backs, it is their forwards who will be relied on to get the edge. After making his Ulster debut last time out, Marty Moore has been called on to start and nullify the threat of Guram Gogichashvili at scrum time.

The 20-year old Georgian started last week's win over Scarlets, even with that game coming before the unfortunate injury to luckless French international loosehead Eddy Ben Arous.

The only other change comes at lock where Kieran Treadwell comes into the side for Alan O'Connor, who drops to the bench.

Rory Best again captains the side from hooker while Andrew Warwick will pack down at loosehead alongside the 36-year old and Moore.

Pleasingly for coach Dan McFarland, there are no changes to the loose forward trio where Marcell Coetzee, Nick Timoney and Jordi Murphy are all fit to go again.

Murphy's Ulster career got off to a delayed start thanks to an ankle injury suffered on his debut but he enjoyed his return to the action against Leicester last weekend.

"(The injury) was frustrating but it's part of the game unfortunately, I hadn't had an injury all of last year and then I come up here and got injured in my first game," he said.

"It's great to be back for any game, but it's not too hard to get up for a big game in Europe, especially against a team like Leicester who traditionally have a very strong front five.

"It was a good baptism, jumping straight into the fire, and hopefully it stands me in good stead for the next few weeks.

"We were a bit frustrated in the first half that we didn't take some of our opportunities, particularly in their 22, but I thought we rectified that in the second half where we came out firing and scored a nice early try.

"The boys who came on really added as well, so it was a great all-round team performance.

"They're a very physical, big pack and then they have some superstars out the backs, so they're really strong throughout their team, as you'd expect from a team that have been to the Champions Cup final two of the last three years.

"It's going to be up to us to go over there and give the best account of ourselves that we can and come away with the best result possible."

RACING 92: S Zebo; T Thomas, O Klemenczak, H Chavancy (c), J Imhoff; F Russell, X Chauveau; G Gogichashvili, C Chat, C Gomes Sa; D Bird, L Nakarawa; W Lauret, B le Roux, A Claassen.

Replacements: T Baubigny, V Kakovin, C Johnston, F Sanconnie, J Joseph, T Iribaren, B Volavola, L Paris.

ULSTER: M Lowry; C Gilroy, W Addison, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, D Shanahan; A Warwick, R Best (c), M Moore; I Henderson, K Treadwell; M Coetzee, J Murphy, N Timoney.

Replacements: A McBurney, E O'Sullivan, R Kane, A O'Connor, S Reidy, J Stewart, J McPhillips, A Kernohan.

Racing 92 vs Ulster

Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4

La Defense Arena, Today, 5.30pm

Belfast Telegraph