European Champions Cup: Ulster must back big wins up to earn a seat at 'top table' - Dan Soper

Ulster team v Clermont
Ulster opened their European account with an excellent win over Clermont in France

Dan Soper believes Ulster must find new levels of consistency if they want to earn a seat at the "top table" of European rugby.

The province secured an impressive 29-23 away win over Clermont in their European Champions Cup opener on Saturday.

They host Northampton on Friday night and coach Soper has called on the players not to repeat their mistake from earlier this month when they lost to Ospreys after winning in Leinster.

"Every time we go out we want to win but we have to get ourselves to a position where it is our performance that drives us," he said.

"The last time we had a good win away to Leinster we didn't back it up the following week and that is something that we are well aware of.

"The very top teams in Europe and in domestic leagues are the teams that have big results and then back them up the next week. If we want to be a team that sits at the top table then that is what we need to do.

"You want to find that lovely balance where you win but you are still looking to push your game on and not be completely satisfied. We know we are not the finished article by any stretch, so we have got a lot that we can keep striving to get better at."

Ulster have been working with sports psychologist Darren Devaney since the summer and Soper believes he can play an important role in helping the players find the consistency they are seeking.

"Darren has been really useful. He has not been here particularly long but he already is having a real influence on the squad and on things that we do," Soper continued

"Hopefully he can help with that consistency. It is an excellent question and one that every coach in every sport is striving to find the secret answer to, as to how do you get consistency.

"What we are trying to go after is that we have standards in our week in how we prepare. We encourage the players to have a routine in how they go about preparing themselves so that they are as well prepared for Clermont as they will be this week for Saints at home."

Vermeulen boost as Hume and McCloskey in 'form of lives'

Speaking on Monday afternoon, Soper revealed that wing Robert Baloucoune had gone for a scan that morning on a shoulder injury that forced him off during the first half in France.

He was unable to provide any further update on how the youngster's fitness was but repeated what head coach Dan McFarland said after the game, that he is unlikely to be available to face Northampton.

One player that Soper was able to speak much more positively about was South African World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen, who made his Ulster debut fresh out of Covid-19 isolation.

"He went really well. It was a big ask of him," continued Soper, who said the Ulster coaches have been impressed by Northampton despite their defeat by Racing last Friday.

"He got one training session and was in and out of that a bit, but he is a very smart, experienced rugby player who has experienced moving clubs during his career so knows what the really important things are to get a handle on.

"We tried to make it as simple as possible for him during the week and just let him get out there and get into it. The lads were very supportive of him also. It was great to have him out there."

Stuart McCloskey's first half try helped Ulster open up a 16-point lead against Clermont

Two home-grown players have also caught the coach's eye, with Soper lavishing praise on the centre partnership of James Hume and Stuart McCloskey.

"Yes, I think it probably is," he said when asked if this was the best spell for each of them of their Ulster careers.

"I was speaking to Stuart at lunchtime today and there were a few bits of detail that I told him were the best I have ever see him doing in that part of his game.

"Stuart is in magnificent form and James is really coming out of himself, and showing that his potential is not potential anymore, but it is actually performance.

"The two of them are in great form, they complement each other well and have a really nice understanding with each other. It is nice for me to have those two guys working so well."

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