Friday 28 April 2017

Ulster look to change script with new signings

Connacht scrum-half John Cooney will join the northern province this summer. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Connacht scrum-half John Cooney will join the northern province this summer. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ulster swiftly moved the focus off their disappointing Champions Cup pool exit by confirming two new signings for 2017 as Les Kiss looks to ensure the mistakes of this season are not repeated.

As first revealed in last Wednesday's Irish Independent, Springbok flanker Arno Botha and Connacht scrum-half John Cooney (pictured) will join the northern province this summer, having signed two-year deals.

Kiss is under pressure after an underwhelming campaign so far, and criticism of his side has grown in the wake of their Round 5 European exit after Sunday's loss to Exeter Chiefs.

The Australian intends on adding an overseas loosehead prop to his ranks as he looks to shore up the power-deficiency in his pack, while change behind the scenes is also on the way.

Ulster will be Cooney's third province and he will hope that a starting berth will propel him to international honours. A Heineken Cup winner with Leinster, he has impressed at Connacht but has found himself behind Kieran Marmion for the biggest games.

Kiss described him as Ulster's "No 1 target" when they set about replacing Ruan Pienaar with an Irish-qualified scrum-half.

The 26-year-old's presence at the Kingspan Stadium will ensure that all four provinces will have an Irish starting No 9 next season.

Botha has had his injury problems, but the twice-capped Springbok has long been highly rated and yesterday the Blue Bulls of Pretoria expressed their regrets about being blown out of the water by Ulster's offer for his services.

With Marcell Coetzee yet to make his debut, the prospect of two South Africans carrying the ball will greatly add to Ulster's power, while also allowing Iain Henderson to move into the second-row more regularly.

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