John Cooney must make up his own mind on whether to switch allegiance from Ireland to Scotland for Six Nations, says Ulster coach Jonny Bell

Having won 11 caps for Ireland, a change to World Rugby eligibility criteria sees him requalify for Scotland, where his father was born, on February 23, three years on from his last cap for the nation of his birth.

Speaking at the Six Nations media launch in London on Monday, Scotland boss Gregor Townsend revealed that Cooney had reached out to him to discuss the possibility of making the switch and added that he could yet be involved in the upcoming Championship.

That would raise the prospect of an incredible debut against Andy Farrell’s Ireland in Edinburgh on March 12.

“That’s a personal matter between him and Gregor,” said Bell, adding that he had not discussed the issue with the player.

“There are several players changing allegiance and it’s the modern game. Players want to play international rugby.

“You can understand why players want that opportunity and it’s maybe an avenue that he wants to look through.

“That’s up to him. His main focus is with us and making sure we get ourselves going well and whatever he decides with regards to international rugby is up to him.

“He’s a terrific player and has been for a number of years. Any player aspires to play international rugby.

“He puts himself in the shop window playing for Ulster week in, week out and we’re blessed with a lot of good scrum-halves.”

Ulster’s John Cooney will soon become eligible to play for Scotland as he hasn’t played for Ireland for nearly three years© ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Players switching from one nation to another has not been the only hot topic in the sport this week with the RFU’s announcement that they will reduce the legal tackle height across community rugby from next season, sparking debate among players and pundits alike.

The news was met with great skepticism in certain quarters, with Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton a vocal opponent.

“There was a study done a few years ago and there were a lot of red cards given for high tackles, and 100% we need to get them out of the game, but none of them resulted in concussions, whereas a lot of them came from knees to the head and hips to the head,” he said.

“I am not sure who puts these rules in place but I don’t agree with them, especially for a taller man like myself who likes to tackle hard.”

While stressing the need that tackle heights must be lowered, Bell can see Sexton’s point of view when it comes to below the waist.

“It’s a fast-moving chaotic sport,” said the northern province’s defensive specialist. “I think definitely tackle heights have got to come down.

“It’s a difficult one because there have been concussions with knees, or hip-pointers, to the sides of heads.

“It’s trying to make the game safe. Around the technical aspect of tackling, particularly amateur players and younger players learn technically how to tackle.

“If you just decide we’re going to take it below waist height and you don’t have the technical proficiency to do that, you’ll put people in jeopardy.

“It’s something that every team in pro rugby want, to get the tackle height down for the safety of everyone involved and it’s something I believe is important for the game as a whole but there are going to be problems around that.”

Ulster assistant coach Jonny Bell says he hasn’t discussed Scotland with John Cooney© ©INPHO/Tom Maher

For his part, Bell said that Ulster focus on being below the ball in their tackling.

“It’s a minefield, to be honest,” said the former Irish international centre. “We talk about under ball. Some collisions will ride up slightly but we need to see a definite snap in height through the hips.

“We talk a lot about snapping height late, tackling under ball and making sure we are powerful in that position. That’s what we’re trying to ingrain in the players and the players work incredibly hard at that.

“The game is chaotic, it’s fast-moving, players are changing their height. It’s not going to be without issues.

“Everyone carries very differently, everyone tackles differently, nobody tackles exactly the same. No one cap fits all but we work off a mindset of trying to get under the ball.

“The game is fast-moving, it’s chaotic, the ball carrier is changing heights at different times. Some tacklers are a little bit careless and they can get themselves high.

“I don’t think they intentionally do that, it’s a momentary thing that’s happened.

“Whether the laws change or not there are still going to be mistakes around that. As a defensive coach it’s about us making sure the players understand what we’re trying to do as a defensive side and to make it as safe as possible.

“It’s a physical, fast-moving game. Big, fast men moving at pace and it’s about us being able to effectively and efficiently stop those players gaining momentum and it’s a mixture of making sure we get our tackle height down late and we’re powerful through that tackle.”


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