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New coach Soper raring to get started at Kingspan

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster have finalised their coaching ticket for next season with the addition of Banbridge and Royal Belfast Academical Institution coach Dan Soper as skills coach.

Confirming a report in Saturday's Belfast Telegraph, Ulster broke the news yesterday morning, following on from last week's announcement that Jared Payne will become the province's defence coach.

The pair join incumbents Dwayne Peel, Aaron Dundon and Niall Malone at Kingspan Stadium, with Scottish forwards specialist Dan McFarland to head up the operation.

The former Connacht man will be taking the place of Jono Gibbes, although the exact date of his arrival remains a point of concern given that the SRU are publicly insisting he works a notice period up until January.

Soper has been one of the province's most successful coaches outside the professional game, winning the Danske Bank Schools' Cup three times in a row with RBAI between 2015 and 2017, while establishing Banbridge as one of the strongest Ulster clubs.

He was previously involved with Ballynahinch during a hugely successful period at Ballymacarn Park, while also leading unfancied Ballyclare High to the Schools' Cup final in 2012.

He will remain in place at Banbridge next season while working with Ulster and admitted he can't wait to get started in his new role.

"When I spoke to Bryn (Cunningham) and the other coaches, I was really impressed with the vision they have about how they want the team to play and where they want the club to go," he said.

"I feel my strengths are well suited to the role they want me to play in that."

Soper will be a familiar face to many at Kingspan Stadium already, with captain Rory Best well known at his training sessions at Banbridge, while several Academy players were turning out for the side regularly during last season's strong campaign in Division 1B of the All-Ireland League.

In addition, he worked with promising youngsters Michael Lowry and James Hume at RBAI over the past few years.

"There are a lot of the players that I have worked with over the years, from Michael (Lowry) and James (Hume) at Inst in recent years, right back to Darren Cave who I coached at Sullivan, as well as all the players on the Ulster Schools and Banbridge teams," he added.

"Also, as someone who has been a season ticket holder for the past number of years, I've always watched the development of players with a keen eye so it's really exciting that I'll now have the opportunity to help further that development.

"The prospect of working in the professional game is something that I am really enthused about, I expect it to be another step up but it's a challenge that I'm really looking forward to."

Operation Director Bryn Cunningham seems to share his enthusiasm.

"From speaking to Dan, Jared and Daniel, as well as our current coaches, I know they are all really looking forward to linking up and getting stuck into the new season," he said.

"This is a great opportunity for a revitalised coaching group to come in with fresh ideas and a renewed determination to take Ulster back to where we all want to be.

"There are very few coaches who can boast the level of success and respect that Daniel has in the local game and this, along with his undoubted coaching aptitudes, will ensure he is a great addition to the set-up here at Kingspan Stadium."

Belfast Telegraph

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