Dan Soper offers Ulster injury update and Ireland hopes for Stuart McCloskey

Ulster's Dan Soper. (Photo by John Dickson/Dickson Digital)
Ulster's Dan Soper. (Photo by John Dickson/Dickson Digital)

Cooney tore his calf after 25 minutes in Ulster’s season-ending URC quarter-final defeat against Connacht in May.

The scrum half stayed on for another 35 minutes and has had a frustrating summer but Ulster backs coach Dan Soper is hopeful that Cooney will won’t miss much game time in the early part of the season.

“He's had a pretty frustrating summer, one step forward, two steps back, but he's tracking well to feature in the early season, whether it's game one or not we'll have to see,” explained Soper. “It's been frustrating for him, you know John, how enthusiastic he is, how keen he is and how much he loves his day to day, getting in and training.

“Two steps forward, one step back but at the minute we're in a two steps forward let's hope that continues.”

Soper was more upbeat on Jacob Stockdale, who injured his hamstring during Ireland’s warm up for the pre-World Cup friendly against Samoa.

“He's back training, I'm not sure when he'll play but he's back doing parts of training,” said Soper. “The thing for Jacob is that he's desperate to get fully fit so that, if a call came from France, he'd be ready to go.”

“He'd love that opportunity...he's here working hard to get ready for that physically.”

The news wasn’t so positive on Marty Moore and Sean Reffell. Moore hasn’t played since injuring his knee against Munster on New Year’s Day while Reffell has only made three appearances since arriving from Saracens last summer.

“There's the guys that are long term but, outside of that, we're not too bad,” said Soper. “Guys have picked up bumps and bruises but we're in reasonably good health outside the likes of Sean and Marty.”

Soper hopes Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey will still have a part to play in Ireland’s World Cup campaign and believes he could have the same impact as New Zealand’s out half Stephen Donald during 2011.

McCloskey is one of three players – along with Leinster duo Jack Conan and Jimmy O’Brien – not to have been named in any of Andy Farrell’s matchday squads in France. After beating South Africa, Ireland are virtually guaranteed a knockout place.

Donald hadn’t been selected for the World Cup in 2011 but the All Blacks suffered a string of injuries at out half. Donald abandoned his holiday to answer the All Blacks call and came off the bench in the final against France, kicking the winning penalty.

“Stu hasn’t had an opportunity yet and we would love to see him playing...everyone that is here (Kingspan Stadium) on a Friday night sees how good we think he is,” said Soper. “You just never look at World Cups in the past and Ireland have big games to come you just don’t know who is going to take a knock and the next thing guys like Stu have to be ready to go and ready to perform.

“He could be the Stephen Donald of Irish rugby playing in a final only and, hopefully, he gets a go.”