Ulster Rugby has confirmed that scrumhalf John Cooney has signed a two-year contract at Kingspan Stadium and will move from inter-provincial rivals Connacht at the end of the season.
The northern province has also announced the capture of South African international Arno Botha, who will move to Belfast following the conclusion of the 2017 Super Rugby campaign. He will join on a two-year deal.
The 26 year old Cooney started his career with Leinster, making his competitive debut in September 2011 in an away fixture versus Ospreys. He made his European bow later that season when Leinster beat Ulster in the 2012 Heineken Cup Final.
Cooney made 27 appearances for the RDS club before moving to Connacht for the 2014-15 season, where he has amassed 30 caps.
Commenting on his decision to move north, Cooney said:
”I’m delighted to be joining Ulster. My mum lived in Belfast for a few years and she really enjoyed the city so that made my decision a lot easier.”
”Les Kiss was a big factor is my move too as he’s so well-respected and I believe I can develop my game under his coaching. I spoke with him at length a few times about his hopes for Ulster Rugby and it sounds like an exciting time to be involved in the set-up. I loved my time in Galway and it re-energised my career, but I felt it was the right time for a fresh challenge. I have aspirations to play international rugby but first and foremost my focus will be on earning the starting scrumhalf position at Ulster.”
South African Arno Botha, who can operate either as a flanker or number eight, has made 46 Super Rugby appearances for the Bulls. He is currently vice-captain for the franchise, where he has spent his entire professional career.
The 25 year old captained South Africa U20s in the 2011 World Championships in Italy and was also named as their Player of the Year after a string of impressive performances.
He made his debut for the Springboks against Italy in June 2013, but suffered a knee injury just four minutes into his second test, against Scotland, later that month.
Botha has been in superb form over the past couple of seasons and he captained the Blue Bulls as they made the final of last year’s Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier domestic competition.
Commenting on Botha’s arrival, Director of Rugby Les Kiss said:
”Arno was tipped to be a future Springboks captain from a young age but his career was somewhat curtailed by injuries after he made his international debut in 2013. Those injuries are behind him now and he has regained his best form over the past 12 months.”