John Cooney won over the Ulster players with Ruan Pienaar joke
Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Together with GUINNESS
Ulster scrum-half John Cooney has made a huge impression since moving to Belfast at the start of last season.
The former Leinster half-back swapped Connacht for Ulster last year and went on to win the Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year, the Ulster Rugby Supporters' Club Player of the Year and Rugby Writers' Player of the Year in his debut season.
Cooney has been terrific for Les Kiss, Jono Gibbes and now Dan McFarland but there was a large degree of skepticism over his arrival given the fact that he was replacing long-time scrum-half and former Springbok international Ruan Pienaar.
Pienaar played 141 games for Ulster over seven seasons in Belfast but left for Montpellier last season after the IRFU refused to sign off on his proposed contract extension.
Cooney was subsequently drafted in as his replacement and Andrew Trimble said that the Dubliner immediately won over the club's senior players with a joke about the dearly departed.
"He was a very unique character at the start," Trimble said on Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, SportsJOE's new rugby podcast.
"He came in and we didn't know him or what to expect. We probably expected this cocky Leinster young fella and he came in - and obviously Ruan Pienaar had just left - and Cooney came in with big shoes to fill and we thought this guy would be nervous about taking Ruan Pienaar's place.
"He introduced himself to the squad and he said 'first of all I'd like to say sorry for the passing of Ruan'. We were like how dare you. The joke didn't really land because he kind of mumbled it and a couple of guys thought that he meant the passing - like the poor passing, as in not that he died - because the Ruan dying joke is funny and then we realised this guy is hilarious but he's a great guy and he's settled in really well."
Former Munster centre and co-host Barry Murphy said that he was very impressed by full-back Michael Lowry and liked how he recovered after making an early mistake.
"I was very impressed with Lowry," said Murphy.
"I loved the way Leicester tried to focus on him and target him with a few balls, he dropped the first one which was a tough one to take, and he took the next few but his footwork, his speed, his attitude, but when he started to come into himself he started to lift the rest of the team.
"It just adds another dynamic. I've been in teams like that when someone comes out of nowhere, and you'd maybe be a little bit worried about them, and then they do something outrageous that no one expects and the whole team gets a boost off it.
"It's so exciting to see young, smaller guys like that that are using their pace and have obviously developed a way of using their size and their speed to their advantage."