Ulster’s Dan Soper has cause for optimism ahead of Leinster clash

The sides will meet in the URC quarter-final this weekend

Ulster's Mike Lowry and Leinster's Hugo Keenan
Ulster's Mike Lowry makes a dash for the line as Leinster's Hugo Keenan attempts to stop him during last month's URC game between the sides at Kingspan Stadium. Picture: Brian Little

ULSTER have met Leinster eight times in knockout games since 2011 and have lost every time, but attack coach Dan Soper is confident the northern province can reverse that trend on Saturday evening in the URC quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium.

Ulster have lost two domestic finals and one European decider in that eight-game run and have only beaten Leinster in Dublin three times in the last quarter-of-a-century.

However, Soper has cause for optimism as Ulster completed a league double over Leo Cullen’s side this season.

“We’ve got to have a belief in what we’re doing at the moment. They’re a hell of a team and there’s no doubt we’ll go down as underdogs,” said Soper.

“They’re quite a team, they’ve just been in a Champions Cup final. But we’ve got nothing to lose and we have guys who have no fear and have clarity in what we’re trying to do.

“If we can impose ourselves on them and put them under a bit of pressure and make it an uncomfortable afternoon then we give ourselves a chance, but if we deviate away from the plan then it could be a tough afternoon.

“We’ve had a couple of great wins against them this year and a lot of how we’ve done that, it’s been through pretty clear and deliberate planning.

“We see the strengths they have, and we want to turn those into opportunities for ourselves.

“We’ve done that well on occasions we’ve played them, but you’ve got to do it for 80 minutes. It will be a challenge this weekend.

“We’re going to Leinster and it’s a huge challenge but it’s one we’re very excited about, it’s a great test of where we’re at.

“They’re a hell of a team, they’re hurting with what happened in the Champions Cup [when they lost the final to Toulouse after extra-time], but they’re a great side and we have to be at our very best on Saturday evening.”

While  admitting Leinster go into the game as odds-on favourites Soper dismissed the notion it is a free hit for Ulster as there isn’t much expectation going to Dublin.

“I suppose you could look at it like that,” he said.

“You could also look at it as it’s been a long season, 18 games, to get yourself into this position to be in a play-off and you don’t want to be careless with that opportunity and not be clear how you’re going after it and give yourself the best opportunity to win.

“You don’t want to put yourself in these positions like last year, where we worked so hard to be in a play-off and then we just weren’t good enough on the day [in the home quarter-final defeat to Connacht], and then you have to live with that, that we didn’t perform as well as we wanted to and got the result we deserved.”

“This weekend, is it a free hit? We want to perform and if we perform we think we can really put pressure on Leinster and cause a bit of discomfort for them and give ourselves a chance to win the game.

“Ultimately, we’re in a knockout game to win – is it a free hit? I’m not sure if that comment implies we’re going to go down and be careless and it doesn’t matter.

“It really does matter, and we will have a plan to win the game.

“If you look at the age profile of the team at the weekend, this is a team at the start of their journey.

“You talk about the experience that teams are bringing off the bench like Munster did at the weekend, like Leinster will at the weekend. We’re not quite there, but these experiences will help them. It would be great if they could get another knockout game next weekend.”