Ulster will let EPCR investigation into La Rochelle game play out while retaining focus on pitch, insists coach Dan Soper

Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper claims the playing staff are doing their best to ignore matters off the pitch and instead remain focused on matters at hand ahead of their trip to Connacht this weekend.

t was confirmed on Monday evening that European Professional Club Rugby would be opening an investigation into the events that led to Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup game against Stade Rochelais being switched from Ravenhill to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

A pitch inspection on Friday determined the pitch unplayable – despite Ulster head coach Dan McFarland and chief executive Jonny Petrie claiming it was playable on Saturday morning – leading to the game being moved south of the border, with the French side triumphing 36-29.

But the affair has spilled into this week, too, with EPCR further adding in a statement on Tuesday that the “investigation is proceeding under the terms of the 2022/23 EPCR Disciplinary Rules, and Ulster Rugby have been requested to co-operate fully.”

For their part, Ulster are trying to prepare for a return to United Rugby Championship action on Friday when they play their final game of 2022 at inter-provincial rivals Connacht, and Soper says they’re paying no attention to goings on away from the pitch.

“My job is with the players and the team. I maybe don’t want to talk too much about that either!” he joked.

“What went on behind the scenes? I know there were a lot of people working really hard to get the game on. The decision was made – I’m not privy to who made the decision or who was involved – and we were really disappointed not to be here on what would have been a big occasion.

“It is what it is and I understand there’s an investigation of sorts going on at the moment and that’ll all come out in the wash I would guess. It was frustrating but we’ve got to move on. That’s the nature of this sport, you can’t dwell on these things.

“From my point of view, I wasn’t involved with decisions made on covers or things like that. All we were doing was cracking on and preparing the team and waiting for things to happen. Unfortunately they didn’t go our way but that will all come out in this investigation that’s going on.”

The game has added significance to it given the run that Ulster are on having lost their last three matches and are in bad need of a win to restore some confidence to a battered squad that added Rob Herring, Billy Burns and Angus Curtis to its injury list on Tuesday.

After losing their last domestic tie to Leinster at the start of the month, Ulster have fallen to fourth in the URC table and, although there is still a significant proportion of the season to run, they do not want to fall out of the top-four in the race for home advantage in the play-offs.

Soper, though, insists that the team aren’t looking at this week’s game as any more important than it did at the start of the month, although he is well aware that the team could do with racking up a four-pointer – or, ideally, a five-pointer – sooner rather than later.

“I think it was always going to be a really pivotal, important part of the schedule,” he countered.

“Look, we’ve played three really tough fixtures. We haven’t performed as well as we wanted to. We knew this was going to be a tough part of the year but one thing about this group is we’ve stood up to challenges in the past and we hope that the next two weeks, with two derbies, we do the same.

“We want our focus to be on this weekend. One game at a time.

“In our league, we know how important it is to keep notching up these wins and it could mean home advantage in the play-offs. We know what happened last year. That’s what we want, to have home play-off rugby, and we need to perform at this time of year to put us at the top.”

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