Rob Baloucoune insists Ulster are good enough to win Challenge Cup

The northern province face Montpellier in the round of 16 this weekend

Robert Baloucoune
Robert Baloucoune believes Ulster are well capable of winning the Challenge Cup this season (Liam McBurney/PA)

WINGER Rob Baloucoune believes Ulster are good enough to end their 18-year trophy drought by winning the European Challenge Cup.

It is only the second time in 29 years of European competition that Ulster have played in the secondary tournament, they reached the semi-final in 2021 but blew a half-time away to Leicester Tigers.

Ulster travel to Montpellier Sunday lunchtime after dropping into the Challenge Cup after three defeats from four games in the Champions Cup, including shipping 95 points in their last two games against Toulouse and Harlequins.

“We have shown performances in the last lot of years, and we definitely believe that we are good enough to go out and win this competition and that is what we are doing just building on from each training programme that we do,” stated Baloucoune.

“Knockout rugby is tough, and you get one chance at it and all you can do is go out there and try your best and that is all that we can do.

“It is a new challenge, so it is definitely something that we are all looking forward to.

“I look back on games, you make mistakes in games and think I could have done better and that is just the way of knock-out rugby.

“The way I look at it is just go out there do what you need to do right and collectively that helps the team and that is the stuff that I will be focusing on going into this game.

“Obviously ultimately it is results that we need, we have had performances and then we have dropped off, it is just being able to keep those performances building on from them rather than falling back so that is something that we are definitely planning.

“It is a big French team, so you know what they are going to bring as well, it’s just our preparation this week of being really decisive and being really clear on what we need to do when we get there.

Despite the chaos at Kingspan Stadium in the last few weeks – the team has one win in six; CEO Johnny Petrie and head coach Dan McFarland have departed; and rumours persist that World Cup winner Steven Kitshoff is ready to end his contract early and return to South Africa – Baloucoune feels it hasn’t affected the playing squad.

“Obviously there has been change but we are a tight-knit group, we believe in each other, and we are all mates so in those terms nothing much has changed.

“Richie has told us what he wants so all you can do is stick the head down and train the way he wants us to be doing.”

While the key objective for Ulster is to win silverware, Baloucoune’s personal goal is to stay fit after his hamstring problems and recapture the form that has earned him four Ireland caps.

“Overall, fitness of me being able to do what I am good at, in terms of speed I have been able to chase box kicks and I have struggled a wee bit with my hamstring.

“I have definitely struggled with it, one week it is good, one week it is bad so it is just me getting that consistency so I can perform.

“Strength & conditioning are great, the physios are great, they gave me time there over the last few weeks to really get it sorted, at the start of the season I was just kind of playing and going home to see how it goes and it kind of deteriorated so a bit of time there to get me into better shape.

“I’m with the IRFU as well and the physios there to see what they can do with it, it has been new for me and helping in what I need to get right to be fully fight on that pitch.