Dan Soper’s Ulster warning

It wasn’t the start in the United Rugby Championship that the South African teams had been hoping for.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 1:00 pm

The Bulls - considered to be the Rainbow Nation’s strongest team and captained by former Ulster fan favourite Marcell Coetzee - only managed a single penalty in a 31-3 defeat against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

The Sharks conceded six tries in their 42-17 defeat against Munster in Limerick.

The Stormers lost 22-18, despite leading by 13 points at one stage.

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Ulster's Dan Soper. Pic by Dickson Digital.

The Lions did win in Zebre but were hanging on at the end after leading 35-0 at the interval. The Italians staged a second-half comeback but the Lions held on for a 38-26 win.

The performances of the South Africans has to be put into context as all their international players are on Springboks duty and won’t be available to after the November internationals.

And Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper believes the South African teams in the URC will be better for the experience.

“It’s difficult for any team without their internationals, we’ve been in that situation in the past,” said Soper. “You have to dip your toe in the water and see what it’s like but I’ve no doubt they’ll be better for playing in this competition and getting a feel for what this competition is about.

“I’m sure the sides playing the South Africans had a bit of nervousness about what to expect.

“But, look, they’re quality teams and they have wonderful players.

“It’s a new challenge and when we have that in three weeks it’s something new to prepare for.”

“It’s a challenge to be without your internationals.

“But, thankfully, the way the competition is structured we have quite a few of ours.

“Hopefully, in the north we won’t have to play too often without them this year.”

Ulster travel to Parma on Saturday to face Zebre and with the way they finished the Lions’ game Soper knows there can be no room for complacency from Ulster.

“It was a really entertaining game of rugby, they play with such ambition and speed,” he said. “They’re dangerous, if you give them opportunities, they will take them.

“Going 30-whatever points down, it almost gave them license even more to go after their own game.

“I guess what’s important is that you just can’t give them those opportunities.

“You have to stay switched on for 80 minutes.

“Maybe the Lions switched off a little thinking the game was over.

“But if we get in front we can’t let the foot off the gas.”

Ulster are likely to be missing scrum half John Cooney for Saturday evening’s trip, due to a hamstring injury.

The Irish pivot is set to have his MRI scan to judge the damage, while winger Robert Baloucoune has a groin problem.

“John, being the eternal optimist...he’s being very positive about it,” said Soper. “To be honest, I’d be guessing (on a timescale).

“I’m going off John’s expertise of knowing his own body and he’s pretty optimistic about it.

“But we’ll see what the scan says.”

The news was slightly better over Baloucoune’s groin issue.

“It’s nothing too serious,” said Soper in his injury update. “So he’ll probably have a week off just to get that right...nothing too major, we just want to get it right.

“It’s early season, we don’t want to be pushing guys through things like that at this time of the year.”


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