Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper not drawn on Steven Kitshoff reports

It’s believed the South African is set to return to his homeland this summer

Steven Kitshoff Ulster's Steven Kitshoff is rumoured to be returning to South Africa at the end of the season Picture: Brian Little

ULSTER assistant coach Dan Soper refused to be drawn on speculation that marquee signing Steven Kitshoff will leave the province in the summer.

As Ulster faced Kitshoff’s old team the Stormers last Saturday, rumours circulated in South Africa that the two-time World Cup-winning Springbok loosehead prop would return to Cape Town and the club he captained to the 2022 United Rugby Championship title.

Kitshoff’s departure would be another huge blow to Ulster. They have already lost head coach Dan McFarland and chief executive Jonny Petrie in the last few weeks, while a host of players are expected to leave in the summer in an attempt to balance the books.

“I’m certainly not in a position to talk about that,” commented Soper on the Kitshoff situation.

“I can talk about all the rugby you like but comings and goings of players is further up the food chain.

“Having the two weeks away, in terms of Jonny leaving and us being away, meant we were removed from it all.

“The two weeks away were a brilliant opportunity for the group to get together and Richie to get in with the group and put his mark on things.

“From a squad point of view, it was excellent timing to be on the other side of the world in that it was far easier to focus on what we were doing and get on with things.”

Results on the pitch have been as turbulent as events of it for Ulster and the team have only registered one win in their last six games going into Sunday’s European Challenge Cup clash with Montpellier, but Soper thinks the team can rise to the challenge.

“This is almost different again for us because with Richie coming in there’s a bit of a fresh start and things moving on.

“To shift the focus away from the league this week is quite nice, we haven’t done as well as we would have liked when it comes to knock-out games.

“We’ve done exceptionally well in terms of the league position, we haven’t been able to finish the job in the knockouts, we’ve got a clear plan for the weekend and hopefully we can go about putting that on the pitch.

“Montpellier had their ups and downs, they’ve had a poor start to the season, but their form at home, particularly over the last few months, has dramatically improved.

“They’re a very big team, typical French side, massive but also have an enormous amount of flair among their team.

“We played a couple French teams this year with mixed success so we know it’ll be a big challenge.”

Ulster have only won two of their last 10 European games while this season they were only successful once in four attempts.

“We must win to make it three out of 11,’' said Soper.

“We’ve played a lot of really good teams in Europe, that’s what Europe’s about, playing the best teams.

“You look at our performances in Europe this season, we had one stand-out performance against Racing 92 where we did a lot of things right.

“Probably our execution and looking after the ball was the highlight of what we did well that night when you compare it to Harlequins and Bath, where we just weren’t accurate enough with our skills and breakdown.

“When you go up against the top teams in Europe, you give them half a chance and they take it.

“We probably got exposed in those three European games this year, when we gave Toulouse a chance out here they were masters of it.

“Harlequins did it too. Bath, we felt we didn’t take our chances in that game, we’re pretty clear on what we need to get better at, we need to get better at looking after the ball.”