Ulster stars buying into our regime, says Dan Soper
Ospreys v Ulster, Guinness PRO14 Championship, Brewery Field, Tomorrow, 7.35pm
It may not have been the headline news of Ulster's coaching announcement but the new contract for skills coach Dan Soper was interesting nonetheless.
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Having been hired from the club game last summer, where he has a two-decade-long association with Banbridge as well as success at both Ballyclare High and RBAI, the native Kiwi's initial deal was for one year but he has already been rewarded with a longer pact.
"I'm delighted as I'm really enjoying what I'm doing," he said.
"I feel that I've only just scratched the surface as it has taken a wee while to find my niche in terms of where I can add value.
"And for the players also to understand what my role is as well, which is part of it, so to be asked to come back for another couple of years, I'm obviously delighted and I feel that I've a lot more to offer and for the role to keep growing.
"Hopefully the players will see that and make the most of it and hopefully it will go well."
With himself and Jared Payne in their first pro coaching roles, Dan McFarland his first as a head coach and Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon not far detached from their playing days, Ulster's is a young staff.
"We are a new team together," Soper admitted.
"We are all learning about each other. Dan will be first to admit that he is learning in his role as a head coach. We are all still learning and to learn you first of all have to admit that if you have not quite nailed something and got it right, we are not afraid to do that."
The commitment to his new methods has impressed Soper, especially from the already established members of the panel such as captain Rory Best.
"That's one thing I have been massively impressed with," he said of the attitude of the squad to the new training regime.
"At the start I was apprehensive that some of the more senior players would feel they didn't need me to tell them how to catch and pass. But every single player wants to get better so they want help. If someone is willing to help them, they're willing to listen.
"Rory (Best) is one of our most driven players, that won't surprise anyone. Marcell (Coetzee) will constantly come and find a coach to help him with something.
"Me with the skills, Aaron with the breakdown, whoever. And that's just an example, they're all like that. We're trying to drive that culture. We're all trying to get better.
"If we all do that then the collective gets better. If we stand still then everyone else goes past us."
Preparing to take on Ospreys and old friend Allen Clarke tomorrow in Bridgend, the hosts are set to be without any of their Six Nations contingent, while they are also short of loosehead props ahead of the return to Guinness PRO14 action.
Ospreys assistant coach Matt Sherratt said: "I know Ulster pretty well. Dwayne Peel is the Ulster attack coach and I worked with him in Bristol when he made the transition from player to coach. As you'd expect from a scrum-half coach, they are pretty positive and they make the most passes in the league.
"They look to play a pretty good brand of rugby so hopefully if the conditions dictate it should be an exciting game.
"It will be a nice one to try and get a win for Clarkie against his old province.
"Any time you play as a player or coach against an old team, I think you probably try to tell people it doesn't give you an extra edge or motivation, but in reality that familiarity with the rest of the staff and the players probably does give you an extra 10 per cent in the week."