Ex-Ireland captain Keith Wood and the Independent’s Ruaidhri O’Connor joined Wednesday Night Rugby on Off The Ball to talk about Ulster’s performances and John Cooney.
Ulster had already qualified for the semi-finals before rugby had returned in Ireland, however, they have yet to win a match post-lockdown.
Connacht shocked them two weeks ago with a 26-20 victory, while last week Leinster were comfortable 28-10 winners with a completely changed squad.
O’Connor pointed to the errors that Ulster made, which will concern head coach, Dan McFarland.
“The amount of errors that they made last Saturday, that really professional players shouldn’t be making, that has to be a major concern for Dan McFarland,” O’Connor said.
“They just haven’t seemed to have got this window right at all and it is going to be hard to turn that on this weekend."
He said that an away trip to Murrayfield should not worry Ulster as much as their late starts to games will.
“I know Murrayfield, when it has like one or two thousand people in it is never the most intimidating place to go,” O’Connor said.
“It is hardly going to be very intimidating this Saturday.
“It is a nice track, it is a big game, all the incentive is there to perform, but you just don’t want to be chasing it, you don’t want to be forcing it.”
Ulster have not been able to get their energy and pace up, which is something that John Cooney was excellent at earlier in the year, according to Wood.
“It has been interesting watching them, there were a huge amount of calls for [John] Cooney to usurp [Connor] Murray earlier on in the season, pretty good calls too, by the way,” Wood said.
“Cooney was on fire playing behind a pack of forwards who were putting the ball on a plate for him.
“He was playing with a high level of confidence.
“That energy hasn’t been evident in the past couple of weeks, that’s the thing.
“Not necessarily from him, but from the team around him, so I feel he has suffered a little bit because of it.
“He hasn’t been in that commanding form.”
O’Connor agreed, saying that Cooney is in desperate need to find the form he was in prior to the lockdown.
“John Cooney picked up an injury during lockdown as far as I know and it seems to have hampered him coming back,” O’Connor said.
“He definitely doesn’t look as sharp.
“I would have been one of the people calling for him to replace Murray during the Six Nations.
“If you’re picking an Ireland team now, I think Luke McGrath and Ciaran Marmion are ahead of him right now, never mind Conor Murray.”
Cooney has started both of Ulster’s matches since the return to play and has yet to put up a strong performance.
But Wood has seen similar issues with the entire Ulster squad.
“I think that Madigan at the weekend was taking the ball very deep, and it is very hard when your 10 takes it deep and you’re passing it deep to get over the gain line,” Wood said.
“It felt as if, you can’t say they were going through the motions because that’s not right either, but they have just taken much longer to get into the tempo.
“Even [Stuart] McCloskey, and I’m a fan of McCloskey’s too, I know he takes a risk and I like that at times.
“But a lot of his risks he is taking are going to ground, where earlier in the year they weren’t, they were going to hand.”
Ulster looked as if they were going to make a comeback in the second half against Leinster, but their slow start cost them in the end.
Wood thinks that if Ulster can start off the match with the desire and pace that they have in the previous two second halves, they could overcome Edinburgh this weekend.
“[Ulster] need to get to the match pace very quickly, because they need to bring it from the very start,” he said.
“They seem to be feeling their way to get into the game and they just haven’t looked like a huge threat.
“They need their energy. If they don’t turn up with energy at the game, they’re going to suffer.”
The second semi-final will kick off at 7:35pm in Murrayfield, where a select number of supporters will be able to attend.
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