Ulster’s Dan Soper targets five points from Scarlets visit

The northern province must make play-offs bid without the injured James Hume

Pacemaker Press 26-02-2024:  
Ulster Rugby’s Centre James Hume pictured during a press preview of the upcoming BKT United Rugby Championship Origins Round 11 fixture against Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.
Ulster's James Hume is facing a spell on the sidelines through injury

BACKS coach Dan Soper believes Ulster will need five points at the Scarlets to keep their hopes of making the BKT United Rugby Championship play-offs and next season’s European Champions Cup alive.

Nine points from their last two games have left Ulster seventh in the table, with a top-eight finish the target for a quarter-final spot. However, if the Sharks win the Challenge Cup, Ulster will need to finish seventh or higher to play in Europe’s Premier competition next season.

Ulster travel to the Scarlets on Saturday afternoon, the Llanelli-based Welsh region have lost 13 of their last 14 games in all competitions, have only won three out of 15 league games this season and have the second worst defensive record in the URC.

‘‘On the face of it, if you look at the stats and what we’re aspiring to be in the play-offs then it’s a game we have to go and win,” stated Soper.

“It’s a lovely stadium, pitch is class, the weather when we were there a couple of years ago was awesome and it led to a lot of points, and I think the weather is pretty good this weekend so hopefully we can score a lot of points and stop them from doing the same at the other end.

“It’s important to qualify for Europe, that’s the competition you want to be in next season, all we can do is win the next match, and the one after that, and hopefully the one after that.

“If we do that then hopefully we’ll have ourselves in the top seven as it is. A lot of it is out of our control because the other results will determine where we finish, but we can control how we perform and hopefully get results.

“It’s going to be really tight, and it means that it’s not three knock-out games, it’s a run of six knock-out games if we go the distance because it’s so tight, you could win two of your last three games and still miss out.

“We’ll just focus on this weekend and get the job done and try and keep improving on what we’re doing.

“We’re seeing improvement in what we’re doing so if we can keep doing that then we give ourselves a fighting chance.”

After wins over Cardiff and Benetton, Soper hopes Ulster have turned the corner.

“It’s been a curvy road we’ve been on, hasn’t it? Throughout the season we’ve had some days we’ve been very disappointed with, and our supporters have been very disappointed with as well, but we’ve had a lot of things in our game that has been good.

“It’s about improving those and bringing up the things that haven’t been so good, have we turned a corner? I don’t know.

“Our thing is to try and improve every day, Richie (Murphy) has set up a few new ways of training, we’ve had some tweaks there, so that’s been a bit of adapting for everyone, but we’ve seen an improvement in how we train and a lot of the stats on the attack side of the ball are trending the right way. Have we turned a corner? There’s a few more turns to come, I’d suggest.”

The Kiwi confirmed that James Hume will spend a prolong period on the sidelines.

“No-one wants to be out and we’ve had enough guys go through it that you see the battle they go through.”

“He’s still about the place and getting ready for surgery, making sure he shows up as healthy as possible for that so that the recovery goes as well as it can on the other side.”

“He’s pretty philosophical about it, it’s part of the job, the risk of injury.”