Gregor Townsend says John Cooney could be called up during this Six Nations

Ireland capped scrum-half becomes eligible for Scotland three days before France match

Ulster and Ireland scrum-half John Cooney reached out to Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend soon after World Rugby's eligibility laws changed. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ulster and Ireland scrum-half John Cooney reached out to Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend soon after World Rugby's eligibility laws changed. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend is considering calling up former Ireland scrum-half John Cooney during this year’s Six Nations.

Under World Rugby’s new eligibility law, a player can now switch allegiances after a three-year stand-down period and if they can demonstrate a credible link to their new nation of choice.

Scotland took advantage of that change to cap former Wallaby Jack Dempsey and have called up Ruaridh McConnochie, capped twice for England, for this tournament.


Thistles lose narrowly to Welsh Development XV in inaugural Celtic Challenge match

Edinburgh v Saracens: Mike Blair happy to settle for narrow win

Premiership: Musselburgh stay in survival battle despite late GHA rally


Cooney has won 11 caps for Ireland but last played for the land of his birth in the 24-12 defeat to England on February 23rd, 2020.

The Ulster No. 9 also has a Scottish father and several other family members based in this country, so meets both criteria.

Townsend has selected Glasgow Warriors pair George Horne and Ali Price, and Ben White of London Irish as his three scrum-halves for the tournament that begins with a trip to Twickenham to play England for the Calcutta Cup on February 4th.

Cooney wouldn’t be eligible for that match nor the home game against Wales a week later.

He could, however, be called up for the three remaining matches, starting with a trip to France on February 26, a home match against Ireland on March 12 and then the visit of Italy to Murrayfield on March 18.

And Townsend revealed utilising the 32 year-old is in his thoughts.

“I spoke to John when the rule change came about,” he said. “He actually reached out to me to let me know that it would be something that he would consider as a lot of his family live in Scotland.

“In terms of timelines he’s not available until later in the championship so it wasn’t something we considered for the beginning of the championship. But we’ll look at it when he’s available and whether we feel it’s right to bring him in in terms of his performances compared to the other No.9s that we have here.

“And also in terms of the speed that will be required for him to get up to speed with how we play. It will be challenging to have someone coming in [halfway through] a championship but it’s great to know that he was keen to be involved with us. And he could add to our depth at scrum-half.”

Scotland will prepare for their opener against England by heading to Spain next week for a warm-weather training camp.

“We went there three years ago when we went from Spain straight to Dublin and played really well that day,” Townsend explained. “What it gives you is an opportunity to train outside which we often don’t get at this time

“We’ve got a very good indoor training facility [at Oriam in Edinburgh] but not being able to train outside is a risk. This is the first time since then that we’ve been able to do it with the relaxation of Covid restrictions.

“We’ll fly straight from Spain to London. It gives us a really good focus, we’re together, training outdoors and we’ve got a big job to do when we get to London.”


Edinburgh v Saracens: Mike Blair happy to settle for narrow win

About Graeme Macpherson 2 Articles
Graeme Macpherson is a freelance sports writer who covers rugby for the Sun, Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday newspapers. A former try-averse schoolboy outside centre, he spent most of the thrilling 1988 Wales vs Scotland contest at Cardiff Arms Park in the medical tent with a cup of sugary tea after getting squashed in a pre-match surge down the front.

25 Comments

  1. we didn’t go looking, Cooney approached Townsend.
    We have some very good 9s its true, but SHC? Really? SHC can hardly get game for Benneton (Cooney IIRC started more than half Ulster’s games this season and is competing with the rather good prodigy Doak). Shiel isn’t good enough I’m afraid and unlikely to make the (national) grade – he’ll be lucky to stay pro. Vellacott has his supporters, I’m not one of them – he has no game management skills, same weakness as Horne only much worse
    Still leaves us Price, Horne, Dobie and White. Should be enough cover but we need to get real about our players and understand that coaches get sacked of they don’t win often enough so they naturally and rightly look at any player who might improve our chances, even just provide back up, albeit short term

  2. Look Cooney was in a rich vein of form a season or two back.Interestingly he can’t currently seem to even get into the Ulster 23! He’s now 33.
    I can understand why Townsend had to bring Maconnachie into the squad as we had lost so many wingers-Graham,Rowe,Hoyland,possibly VDM through injury and,of course, Rufus Maclean for “other” reasons.In Cooney’s position though we have a surfeit of talent-Price,White,Horne,Vellacott,Dobie,Steele,Hidalgo-Clyne and Shiel for goodness sake! So,no I really don’t think we need to be looking to take on board a player who may be past his best now -albeit the goal kicking option he offers gives him a point of difference from the others(apart from SHC).

    3
    1
    • we didn’t go looking, Cooney approached Townsend.
      We have some very good 9s its true, but SHC? Really? SHC can hardly get game for Benneton (Cooney IIRC started more than half Ulster’s games this season and is competing with the rather good prodigy Doak). Shiel isn’t good enough I’m afraid and unlikely to make the (national) grade – he’ll be lucky to stay pro. Vellacott has his supporters, I’m not one of them – he has no game management skills, same weakness as Horne only much worse
      Still leaves us Price, Horne, Dobie and White. Should be enough cover but we need to get real about our players and understand that coaches get sacked of they don’t win often enough so they naturally and rightly look at any player who might improve our chances, even just provide back up, albeit short term

  3. There is no denying the qualities Cooney brings, both in technical terms but also from the tee. His dad is Glaswegian, so he is half-Scottish and therefore fully entitled to play for Scotland through direct parentage. That part of it I have absolutely no issues with, I am sure Cooney feels somewhat Scottish although born and raised in Dublin.

    The real issue is his age at 33 years old, it doesnt send out a great message to the wider Scottish rugby community and is a totally different case from Ben Healy. Healy is in the same situation with a Scottish parent, but he is 23 years old and has his whole career ahead of him- he has also committed himself to a Scottish team in Edinburgh. We already have a number of promising young scrum halves coming up through the ranks such as Dobie, Shiel. Add to the list Price, Vellacott, White, Steele, Horne Jnr. We are fairly well stacked in scrum halves and it isnt exactly a problem area. I am just not sure there is an absolute need to bring Cooney into the camp basically, it may have looked very different if he was in his early to mid twenties.

  4. John Cooney was a prodigy when he first emerged.
    Interesting.
    We have heaps of talent at scrum half but he could still offer something.

    3
    2
  5. This is a lot of conversation about a long shot which given the talent we have in place – and in the pipeline – is highly unlikely to happen. Purely as an observation Townsend did not approach the player, but rather the other way around. Townsend’s diplomatic response spent more time telling us how ineligible he might be rather than suggesting him as a new grade would hope. I for one would be surprised if he increased his cap tally playing for Scotland.

  6. GT is absolutely right for him to explore this option because it is within the laws for him to do so That is not say that it is an absolute farcical nonsensical law that should not have seen the light of day.
    Who thinks up this? – somebody will be telling us next that you can only tackle from the waist down…..

    8
    1
  7. We are meant to be a tier 1 nation but for the last 10 years we have pumped huge amounts of money into 3 year project players contracts, many of whom have already been capped at under 20s and most likely played against our under 20s and now we are playing other countries cast offs.

    With our playing resources we should recognise that we are probably really now a 2nd tier nation and the performances of our under 20s has shown that is what we are. Italy, Georgia to name a few have invested in their grass roots and their under 20 sides do not just beat ours but quite literally smash them off the park.

    But we have used the financial resources of selling our stakes in the Celtic league, 6 nations etc to recruit from here there and everywhere whereas grass roots rugby is dying. Super 6 was setup to bring overseas players in partnerships with the pro sides over and if any good they would already have started their residency process.

    When I played nearly every club had 3 xvs playing week in week out and the clubs up and down the country produced top rugby internationalists who where good enough to win 5 nation championships and grand slams. The last one was made up of players from Hawick, Gala, Watsonians, Melrose, Stewarts Melville, London Scottish, Selkirk, Jedforest, Heriots, Boroughmuir, Edinburgh Accies and Nottingham.

    Scotland is becoming to rugby what Panama are to shipping but as a jersey of convenience instead of a flag of convenience.

    17
    3
  8. 32 years old… one for the future then… or to block the future more likely… money better spent on the likes of Dobie than on a nearly finishing ex international 🤷‍♂️

    10
    2
    • 100% agree Re: Dobie. Consistently the best 9 at Glasgow with a tremendous attitude. Unlike Price who looks terrified of any physical contact and Horne who screams dogs abuse at referees.

      1
      3
  9. IMO Cooney is better than what we have, do I agree with his selection…….. I’m not sure………..however its the law.

    7
    5
    • I’d agree with that, we’ve made a pigs ear of managing our scrum halves with no starting time for Horne or White in the Autumns and only 10 mins near the end of Price gets injured. Cooney is a great option, but it’d be another kick in the teeth

      2
      1
  10. Yet another World Rugby initiative that shows they don’t have the gift of the brain they were born with. All they had to do to protect the Islanders in the Antipodes was to say Tier 1 Nations are exempt. What a useless bunch in a couple of Decades they have turned the game into a Farce, next stop the Sepp Blatter school of lining your own Nest.

    16
    7
  11. Don’t we already have four or even five perfectly good scrum halves? How is this guy better than Vellacott? He’s probably better than Price but that’s not too difficult these days.

    14
    7
  12. The rule is wrong, plain and simple. You can’t play a full international for one country, then three years later play for another. Scotland will end up with about a third of the team born and bred Scots the way things are going. What’s the point of developing young players if randoms just come in when it suits them. Very discouraging.

    24
    4
    • Couldn’t agree more. How can be even consider calling him up when we have a glut of 9’s already and a huge amount of talent at u18 level upwards. Criminal and depressing

      19
      3
    • Cheaper to poach discards than have the expenditure of a third or fourth Pro Team to make room for the developing players coming through perhaps?
      Perhaps David Barnes can ‘poach’ this question when next he is able to ask Townsend, ‘how would you have felt as a developing player seeing another Nations discard pushing you down the pecking order’?

      15
      5
    • I don’t really understand your point … ie why not?

      It’s clear the guy has strong Scottish roots, Ireland aren’t playing him, so why can’t he re-align?

      Having said that … at 32 it’s never going to happen (I hope), Townsend just being polite and keeping a disaster scenario open (IMO).

      3
      4

Leave a Reply

Please be respectful in your replies. Abusive language is automatically blocked. Your email address will not be published.


*