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Ulster hopeful Cooney will be fit for Tigers test


Ulster's John Cooney. Photo: Sportsfile

Ulster's John Cooney. Photo: Sportsfile

Ulster's John Cooney. Photo: Sportsfile

Ulster are hoping that John Cooney will be fit for Saturday's final Champions Cup pool game at Leicester Tigers as the province bid to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.

The 28-year-old scrum-half missed Saturday's stirring 26-22 victory over Pool 4 leaders Racing 92 due to a back spasm suffered in training which he had not sufficiently recovered from on the morning of the game.

Cooney, who was rested for Ulster's heavy PRO14 defeat at Leinster, has not played since the defeat at Connacht just after Christmas.

Having his goal-kicking talent available at Welford Road would be a significant boost for Dan McFarland, who needs to win to copper-fasten their last-eight place.

Billy Burns is the other injury concern ahead of this weekend's final pool game, with the out-half suffering a calf strain during the Racing 92 game.

Should Burns not make the cut, then Michael Lowry could be deployed at 10 - though Johnny McPhillips, if fit, is another option - after a useful cameo last weekend.

As for making the quarter-finals, Ulster managed to blow their chance this time last year at Wasps, which was the final straw for Les Kiss, and going one further this time will be a huge boost for McFarland in his first season here.

"The excitement of qualifying out of your group and getting into the last eight is a big incentive, definitely," said McFarland.

"The most important thing is that we focus on our process because there is no give in this at all.

"We will have to go out there and take it and if we are not top notch we won't get it."

Elsewhere, Wales have suffered a significant injury blow ahead of the Six Nations after No 8 Taulupe Faletau broke his arm for the second time this season.

Faletau fractured his forearm playing for Bath in October and the 28-year-old suffered a similar injury in Saturday's Champions Cup win over Wasps. He's expected to be out of action for eight weeks.

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