Ulster ambition pays off as Soper sees them quell Dragons

Ulster Ethan McIIroy upended by  Dragons Corey Baldwin and  Will Reed   during SaturdayÕs  URC match at Kingspan Stadium.
Picture by Brian Little
McIlroy crop Ulster's Ethan McIIroy upended by Dragons' Corey Baldwin and Will Reed during Saturday's URC match at Kingspan Stadium. Picture: Brian Little
BKT United Rugby Championship: Ulster 49 Dragons 26

“We want 50, we want 50!”

The call around the Kingspan may have had a few supporters thinking back to the “good old days”, as Ulster ticked over to the 49-point mark.

Alas, the men in white couldn’t deliver the half-century on the scoreboard, but the 49-26 win would have left few fans with frowns on their faces as they made their way to the exit.

The win sees the Ulstermen jump a whopping five places in the BKT United Rugby Championship to fifth, as they delivered a seven-try haul in the first (and last) game of the Dan Soper reign.

Two tries apiece for Mike Lowry and David McCann; and further touchdowns for Will Addison, Harry Sheridan and Nick Timoney, saw the northern province romp home in style.

Scrum-half John Cooney was also perfect from the boot with seven from seven.

Temporary Head Coach Soper could not hide his glee with the attacking threat and intent of his side against the struggling Welsh outfit.

“I loved the ambition that we played with and I really liked how we kicked in the first-half,” said the ex-assistant coach.

“Early on we put some really nice kicks down the edge and that allowed us to be in the right areas of the park.

“Maybe at times we’ve overplayed in our own half, and we brought pressure on ourselves.

“Tonight, in the backs in particular, I thought there were some good decisions early that put us in good areas.

“I enjoyed the ambition that they showed on penalty advantage, we were trying to keep the ball alive but not loosely.

“That’s an energy and excitement that you want to be a part of and I really enjoyed seeing that from the guys tonight.”

Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper during SaturdayÕs  URC match  against the Dragons at Kingspan Stadium.
Picture by Brian Little
Ulster's temporary head coach Dan Soper during Saturday's URC match against the Dragons at Kingspan Stadium Picture: Brian Little

Following rumours of widespread discontent within the camp during the concluding stages of Dan McFarland’s stewardship, including suffering three defeats on the bounce heading into Saturday’s game, Soper would have been impressed by how energetic Ulster played.

Rarely did the hosts look like they were in any danger of losing the game.

The Dragons offered some defiance by scoring an early try of their own through James Benjamin, but quickly were caught up in a maelstrom of white shirts threatening through a combination of heads-up rugby and clever kicking.

Jude Postlethwaite, in particular, stood out with his muscular carries, and the centre was rewarded with the player-of-the-match award.

Now Soper will look ahead to a mini tour of South Africa in three weeks’ time, where the side will meet the Sharks and the Stormers.

It will be a chance for the squad to spend some time together under new head coach Richie Murphy who will take over after the conclusion of his Ireland U20′s campaign.

Ulster  Mike Lowry scores a try against  Dragons during SaturdayÕs  URC match at Kingspan Stadium.
Picture by Brian Little
Ulster's Mike Lowry scores a try against Dragons during Saturday's URC match at Kingspan Stadium. Picture: Brian Little

“That’s a happy changing room down at the moment,” continued Soper.

“We asked for energy, we asked for competitiveness and, if we could get those things, we thought we’d enjoy it. There were a lot of smiling faces out on the pitch and it was a good night for us.

“We’ll enjoy that tonight, we’ve a week off next week and we’ll get a week’s training down before we head out there,” he added.

“I know we haven’t always won but we’ve done okay out there. The guys are looking forward to it.

“They want to push their game on and it’s maybe quite a nice thing to get away as a group, see the sun for a couple of weeks and see if we can push things on a bit further.”

James Hume celebrated not only his 90th appearance for Ulster, but also his first as captain and seemed comfortable in the role, leading the warm up with a stature that attracts followers.

It wasn’t all perfect though, as the Dragons were allowed to escape with a four-try losing bonus point in the last minute of the game.

Their maul was a thorn in Ulster’s side throughout the evening and was never truly dealt with.

However, Soper was willing to take it on the chin and learn from the mistakes on an evening where a new chapter begins at the Kingspan.

“We did a lot of things really well, there were a lot of things we didn’t do so well, but there’s a real resolve in the group.

“They want that as the benchmark and they want to kick on from that. Let’s hope that’s the case.”