Dan McFarland: Abusing players ‘totally unacceptable’

Simon Zebo suggested he was verbally abused by Ulster fans on Saturday

Racing’s Simon Zebo during the match in Belfast. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Racing’s Simon Zebo during the match in Belfast. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland tackled issues on two different fronts on Monday as he commented on Racing 92 winger Simon Zebo’s tweet in the aftermath of last Saturday’s clash as well as addressing the build-up to this weekend’s final Champions Cup clash at Leicester Tigers.

The former Munster and Ireland player scored a try as Pool Four leaders Racing lost 26-22 at the Kingspan - their first defeat of the group stages - and tweeted afterwards: “I hope my ears deceived me with some comments directed my way from the crowd. #NotOn - Django wins in the end.”

“We are aware of Simon’s tweet and the discussion around that,” McFarland said. “If that (the comments) did happen, it is totally unacceptable. This is a club where inclusivity plays a huge part.

“And anything that goes against that is totally unacceptable. I know that as an organisation that is totally the position we take.”

McFarland also stated that if supporters had heard any inappropriate comments being made towards Zebo, then they should make the club award of what they had witnessed.

An earlier statement from Ulster Rugby said that the organisation condemned all forms of abuse and that the province, “will work with the relevant parties to robustly investigate any complaints received.”

The organising body of the European Champions Cup, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) had not, as of last weekend, received any formal complaint from Racing 92.

In terms of Saturday’s game at Leicester, Ulster now sit on the cusp of making Europe’s last eight for the first time since 2014.

Qualification now rests in their own hands when they take the field at Welford Road against already eliminated Leicester Tigers in the final round of pool games, with McFarland’s squad heading to Leicester considerably buoyed by Saturday’s victory over Racing which was inspired by Jacob Stockdale’s unstoppable scoring form.

A win over Geordan Murphy’s bottom-placed side in Pool Four will take Ulster through as one of the three best runners-up from the pool stages unless they can pip Racing to top spot which, in turn, rests entirely on beating Leicester and the Parisians, who are three ahead of the northern province on 21 points, tumbling to a shock reverse at home to the Scarlets.

Ulster are hopeful that scrumhalf John Cooney, who pulled out last weekend with back spasms, will be fit although Dave Shanahan ably deputised in the win over Racing.

Dan McFarland: “We will have to go out there and take it and if we are not top-notch we won’t get it. I believe that, it is as simple as that.”
Dan McFarland: “We will have to go out there and take it and if we are not top-notch we won’t get it. I believe that, it is as simple as that.”

There is also a doubt over outhalf Billy Burns who picked up a calf injury at the weekend.

“The most important thing is that we focus on our process because there is no give in this at all,” said McFarland, who was part of the Glasgow Warriors coaching ticket which trounced the Tigers at this stage in 2017 on the way to quarter-finals.

“We will have to go out there and take it and if we are not top-notch we won’t get it. I believe that, it is as simple as that.”

They have been at this stage before, of course, most notably 12 months ago when losing at Wasps in the last round of pool games trashed what appeared to be fairly strong hopes of winning the group and spelled the end of Les Kiss’s time in Belfast.

But, a year on, this appears to be an Ulster side in a better head-space and although a weakened Tigers were mauled 33-10 at the Scarlets on Sunday, McFarland is not for shirking the difficulty which lies ahead.

“We understand the task ahead of us,” he said. “Qualification is in our own hands but they’ll definitely be wanting to make sure we don’t qualify.

“A Leicester team playing at home is going to be a pretty tough ask in terms of beating them,” added McFarland whose side opened their European campaign with a 24-10 home win over the Tigers back in October.

When Ulster last made the quarter-finals, five years ago, they narrowly defeated the Tigers at Welford Road in the final round of pool games.

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