‘You have to be on point’ - McFarland preparing Ulster for Leinster step up

Ulster head coach identifies maul as his side’s biggest weakness from Scarlets win

It’s still very early in the season but already this interprovincial appears to have a lot going for it as the United Rugby Championship’s top two teams, and the only ones to have racked up maximum points, come together on Friday night at the Kingspan.

Add to the mix that both sides could well be close to full strength – with rumours swirling that Johnny Sexton may even be involved – as well as some recent history in that Ulster managed a very rare double over Leinster in the last campaign, and a thoroughly full-blooded clash is on the cards.

Even though Ulster have scored 12 tries in their two outings – one more than Leinster – and accumulated 55 points at the Scarlets on Saturday in a contest dominated by all-out attack, Dan McFarland has pointed out that such free scoring is not likely this time around.

“We will be tested a lot more in defence,” said the Ulster head coach whose side managed seven touchdowns but also coughed up five tries at Parc y Scarlets.


“That’s no disrespect to Scarlets who defended in a particular way, but Leinster will defend in a completely different way, and we will have to be more definite and precise and make the best of fewer opportunities.”

One area which McFarland felt was under par last weekend was Ulster’s maul defence which creaked at key moments and simply cannot function at that level again come Friday evening.

“We gave away three maul tries in the whole of last year and gave up two at the weekend so you can imagine the feeling in the camp.

“If I’m Leinster I’m looking at our maul I’m saying, ‘I’m bringing it to you’.

“For our standards, that wasn’t good enough.”

Ulster will likely have most of last weekend’s personnel available again though there may be doubts over Marty Moore and Aaron Sexton while Sean Reffell picked up a hamstring issue.

Both Iain Henderson and James Hume are tracking well for returns but are not expected to be back just yet.

Unsurprisingly, McFarland feels that this game represents a significant step-up for his squad after their bonus point results over Connacht and the Scarlets.

“Leinster bring an all-round game that will test all aspects of our game.

“They have a cohesiveness and understanding in their attack that very few teams have.

“You have to be on point all the time because if there is space on the field, they will find it.”