Ulster youngster Callum Reid ready to challenge the pecking order

Province’s skills coach Dan Soper has seen ‘big progress’ in prop’s maul and scrum work

Callum Reid’s performances in recent weeks have caught the eye, exactly the type of impact that Ulster’s coaching cadre would have hoped of a young player who made his first senior start in January. He’s likely to add to a modest total of five appearances to date when Ulster host the Scarlets in the Rainbow Cup at the Kingspan Stadium this Saturday (3.0).

The 22-year-old Banbridge loosehead prop was a member of the Ireland U-20 squad that won a Grand Slam in 2019 but the physical side of the maturing process, which varies appreciably depending on position, couldn’t be rushed.

Ulster skills coach Dan Soper explained: “As a frontrow forward it is going to be so hard to jump into playing professional rugby when you are first or second year out of school.

“I was always confident that he [Reid] could do it at this level. You’re right, in the last couple of weeks he’s put his hand up and done a good job. The challenge for him is to take that next step to try and force his way into being a regular in the team.



“Callum has always stood out for his ball carrying, his athleticism and that sort of thing when training with us but where we have seen big progress with him over the last number of weeks in his work around maul and his scrum work.

“They are the sort of things that [may] go unnoticed to most [people] watching the game. That is where he has made his biggest progress for us; we always knew that the other bits were there. You can be the best ball-carrying prop in the world but if you can’t scrum and are not effective in the maul then you are probably not going to play much.”

Soper did point out to the young prop that nailing down the basics doesn’t mean abandoning his points of difference in other aspects of the game. A long-term injury to Jack McGrath has seen Eric O’Sullivan push through not just at Ulster, but in winning a first Ireland cap in the Autumn Nations Cup, while Andrew Warwick has enjoyed plenty of game time. Reid is now ready to challenge the pecking order.

Ulster have yet to win a match in the Rainbow Cup and have nothing tangible for which to play in terms of the final two matches other than in offering game time to a number of promising young players or those returning from long-term injury. Despite disappointing results, Ulster produced an excellent performance in defeat last time out against Leinster in the RDS.

Good opportunities

Soper said: “We did a lot of good things and we created a lot of good opportunities, good things with the ball and defensively. It’s not often that Leinster are kept to not running away with scores when they get in the position that they were 20 minutes from the end. We took a lot of positive things out of it. They are a bit of a yardstick that everyone judges themselves by.

“We are in professional sport so that is the business of winning. I guess the next two weeks are a bit of a mix, we want to win [but also] all the good work that the guys have put in during the season, we want to see that come to fruition and see a really good performance.”

Ulster will be permitted to have 500 supporters in the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday afternoon, something to which the players and coaches are looking forward as a stepping stone to more raucous occasions in the future. In terms of team selection, Soper confirmed that Will Addison (suspended) and John Cooney (following the return-to-play protocols) are unavailable this weekend.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer