Dan McFarland challenges Ulster to back up another famous win

Consistency key ahead of Northampton visit if Ulster want to fix up and down form book

 

Clermont Auvergne 23 Ulster 29

Having followed their significant win away to Leinster with a loss to Ospreys, Dan McFarland and Ulster already know all too well the pratfalls of failing to back up their most impressive of performances.

And so after securing a first ever win over Clermont at the Stade Marcel Michelin on Saturday - their first on any patch of French soil since January of 2016 - the northern province’s head coach had already firmly switched his attention to this Friday’s visit from a Northampton Saints side well beaten by Racing 92 at the weekend.

A side which has alternated between exceptional and sub-par in recent games was excellent out in France with John Cooney, James Hume, Mike Lowry and Nick Timoney all to the fore in the 29-23 win that came after a 16-0 lead had been pegged back to 19-20. A continuation of the pattern that has seen them lose every other time out over the past four contests, though, would undo all that good in one fell swoop.

“Genuinely, you can’t take it like that,” McFarland said when asked if this away win first-up had left them well positioned in the pool. “We’ve got Northampton at home (on Friday).

“We’ve four games to try and book a place in the last-16.

Nick Timoney and Jacobus van Tonder collide. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Nick Timoney and Jacobus van Tonder collide. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

“Northampton lost and they’ll believe they underperformed for them. It’s desperation stakes for them now.

“They’re coming over knowing if they want to go through they have to win. We all know what that’s like.

“For us, it’s very much one focus. We’ve a six-day turnaround, they’ll have seven, and we’ve got to have 100 per cent focus on what we have to do back at our home stadium.”

With Ulster’s last win in France having come under the leadership of Les Kiss, try-scorer Stuart McCloskey was the only player to start both then and on Saturday evening. With so many of their number experiencing such an against-the-odds European victory for the first time, McFarland did admit, though, that it sets a significant mental marker.

“It’s huge,” he said. “Coming to play in a place like Clermont, winning or losing is an experience in and of itself. You take learning from it.

“The bonus of winning is that you can stake confidence on top of that learning. It’s just a big flag to say ‘I can do this.’

“That goes in their back pocket and then the key thing is to understand how they did it and what it takes to go and do it (again).

“The work that they put in as individuals and as a team into training, the work the coaches put in and the mindset that you go into the game with, that idea that you want to perform at the highest level. When you come to play a team like Clermont, or you go to Leinster, you have to perform at a high level.

“We didn’t play our best rugby, we left a few tries behind us in the first half and our kicking game wasn’t as accurate in the third quarter, but every inch mattered and we came away with the win.”

The shoulder injury sustained by Robert Baloucoune in an incident that brought one of Clermont’s two yellow cards on the night looks set to rule the Irish wing out for at the very least Friday’s game and most likely longer. Significantly though, after World Cup winning Springbok Duane Vermeulen banked 50 minutes on debut, another key forward could be on the way back with Iain Henderson making progress after the hamstring injury he shipped in the warm-up of Ireland’s win over Argentina last month.

Duane Vermeulen lasted 50 minutes in his Ulster debut. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Duane Vermeulen lasted 50 minutes in his Ulster debut. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

“We have to see,” said McFarland when asked if his influential skipper could feature this week. “His rehab is coming well and we know what he’s like as a healer. He’s ridiculous.

“But in coming back from injuries, hamstring injuries, there are physical check-offs that if you don’t tick them off you’re not fit to play.

“It’s as simple as that. We won’t know that until later (in the) week.”

Scoring Sequence – 1 min: Cooney pen, 0-3; 6: Cooney pen, 0-6; 13: Cooney pen, 0-9; 25: McCloskey try, Cooney con, 0-16; 34: Penaud try, JJ Hanrahan con, 7-16; 37: Cooney pen, 7-19; 40: Hanrahan pen, 10-19. Half-time. 56: Penaud try, Hanrahan con, 17-19; 62: Hanrahan pen 20-19; 56: Timoney try, Cooney con, 20-26; 73: Cooney pen, 20-29; 80: Hanrahan pen, 23-29.

Clermont Auvergne: C Tiberghein; D Penaud, JP Barraque, T Vili, A Raka; JJ Hanrahan, K Viallard; P Ravai, T Beheregaray, R Slimani; J van Tonder, S Vahaamahina; A Iturria (capt), P Yato, F Lee.

Replacements: T Lanen for van Tonder (46); S Bezy for Viallard (51); E Falgoux for Ravai, C Ojovan for Slimani (both 59); M O’Connor for Barraque (63), L Dessaigne for Lee (69), B Boudou for Beheregaray (74), G Michet for Tiberghein (78).

Yellow cards: Van Tonder (36), Tiberghein (68).

Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, E McIlroy; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor (capt), K Treadwell; M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: S Moore for Baloucoune (35), G Jones for Vermeulen (50), J McGrath for Warwick (52), S Reidy for Rea, S Carter for Treadwell (both 62), R Kane for O’Toole (68), N Doak for Lowry (75). Not used: J Andrew.

Referee: W Barnes (Eng).

Player of the match: J Cooney.

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