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There's one key factor that makes Cooney more suited to Farrell's Ireland than Murray, explains former Ulster scrum-half


Missing out: John Cooney

Missing out: John Cooney

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Missing out: John Cooney

One of Ulster's greatest ever scrum-halves believes John Cooney can still be the man to get Ireland's attack firing.

On-song Cooney was again named on the bench for the Six Nations clash with Wales in Dublin on Saturday (2.15pm kick-off) when Andy Farrell confirmed his panel yesterday.

The only changes the head coach made were enforced by injury after both Garry Ringrose and Caelan Doris were ruled out. With Ulster's Will Addison also still carrying a calf issue, the province's representation remained at four, with Iain Henderson, Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale starting and Cooney among the replacements.

However, Colin Patterson believes the scrum-half could have brought a spark to the backline from the start.

"Having watched the game last Saturday, I didn't think (Conor) Murray had a particularly good game," said Patterson, a tourist with the British and Irish Lions in 1980.

"Now, maybe that was down to rustiness (of the team), but if I was to go on performances in the club game, you have to say that Cooney is playing better."

While Ireland were far from fluid in their 19-12 victory over Scotland to open the Championship last weekend, Patterson saw evidence of a team looking to attack with more freedom than in the last days of the Joe Schmidt era.

“I prefer to see a very fast pass from nine to 10,” added Patterson of the close call between Ulster ace Cooney and Murray, Ireland’s scrum-half for the past eight-and-a-half years.

“Sometimes you find that the slightly smaller fella has a faster release and can get things going quickly.

“When you see Cooney, I do think the ball speed through the air is very good.

“Now, it depends what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to move the ball quickly then the speed between nine and 10 really is critical. If you’re only popping it up to some big fella to barge his way through then it won’t really make a difference.

“From what I saw on Saturday the backs were certainly looking to play a bit more, the try coming off a well-worked move.

“They’re obviously trying to play nice football, and to do that you want to get the ball wide as quickly as possible.

“At the moment, and it’s not a massive difference, I think Cooney is playing that passing game just a little bit quicker and a little bit better.”

While Cooney and Murray faced the media in tandem earlier this week, certainly putting on a united front, Patterson, who had his own back-and-forth with John Robbie in the late 1970s, knows it can be a difficult situation.

“It can be very difficult,” he said. “You always try to be nice to each other but you’re not really being nice to each other.

“If you’re going to be pushed to your best, you need that rivalry if you’re going to be on top of your game.

“You can go off the boil if you go into it not believing that you have to be your very best. I had John Robbie and Robbie McGrath always pushing me and there’s no doubt that it’s good for your game.

“If you had a bad game, you were history, and it can be a long way fighting through provincial games to get back again. It’s more intense now, there wasn’t the same scrutiny.”

With Farrell’s selections so far showing no great departure from his immediate predecessor’s, Patterson believes that any slip-up this weekend against the side who dismantled Italy last time out could bring greater change.

“It was a bit scruffy against Scotland,” he said. “I didn’t think it functioned particularly well. The referee let things be a bit messy, which doesn’t tend to suit the precision that Ireland want out of their rucks, so perhaps it was an off day and they’ll improve this weekend.

“If they don’t though, I think it’ll be a tough day and then it really will be time to start looking at a few changes.”

Belfast Telegraph