Dan Soper will join Ulster Rugby's coaching team next season in the position of Skills coach.
As revealed by the News Letter on Saturday and following on from the announcement of new Head Coach Dan McFarland and that former player Jared Payne will assume the role of Defence Coach, Soper’s appointment completes the Ulster coaching ticket for next season along with Assistant Coach Dwayne Peel, Scrum Coach Aaron Dundon and Head Analyst Niall Malone.
Soper will be a familiar face to followers of domestic rugby, where he has achieved considerable success in the local club and school game. The 41-year-old native of Alexandra, New Zealand, moved to Ireland in 1998 and played for both Banbridge RFC and Ballynahinch RFC. He also had spells playing for North Otago in New Zealand’s NPC and Padova in Italy.
He was then part of the coaching team that guided ‘Hinch to the ‘grand slam’ of Ulster and All Ireland Cup and League success in 2009. In 2010, Soper rejoined Banbridge as Head Coach and he has overseen a steady upward trajectory in club fortunes, highlighted in two promotions in the All Ireland League. Soper will continue to be involved at Banbridge next season.
In the school game, Soper cut his teeth with Sullivan Upper before spending seven years at Ballyclare High School, during which time the school reached four Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup semi-finals and a first final in almost 40 years. Most recently, as Director of Rugby at RBAI, Soper collected three Schools’ Cup titles in a row from 2015 to 2017. He has also coached the Ulster U18 Schools squad.
Soper said: “When I spoke to Bryn (Cunningham) and the other coaches, I was really impressed with the vision they have about how they want the team to play and where they want the club to go, and I feel my strengths are well suited to the role they want me to play in that.
“There are a lot of the players that I have worked with over the years, from Michael (Lowry) and James (Hume) at ‘Inst’ in recent years, right back to Darren Cave who I coached at Sullivan, as well as all the players on the Ulster Schools and Banbridge teams.
“Also, as someone who has been a Season Ticket holder for the past number of years, I’ve always watched the development of players with a keen eye so it’s really exciting that I’ll now have the opportunity to help further that development.
“The prospect of working in the professional game is something that I am really enthused about, I expect it to be another step up but it’s a challenge that I’m really looking forward to.”
Cunningham added: “From speaking to Dan, Jared and Daniel, as well as our current coaches, I know they are all really looking forward to linking up and getting stuck into the new season. This is a great opportunity for a revitalised coaching group to come in with fresh ideas and a renewed determination to take Ulster back to where we all want to be.
“There are very few coaches who can boast the level of success and respect that Daniel has in the local game and this, along with his undoubtable coaching aptitudes, will ensure he is a great addition to the setup here at Kingspan Stadium.”