Dan McFarland: Hunger to succeed is our strength going forward
Rory Best admits province will be ‘fighting for their lives’ in games against Scarlets
Wenceslas Lauret crosses the line for one of Racing 92’s five tries against Ulster in their 44-12 victory in Paris. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Champions Cup: Racing 44 Ulster 12
Another point, or at a push two points, got away from Ulster in Racing’s futuristic Arena but over the course of the opening two rounds in the European Champions Cup, their remodelled, reshaped and injury afflicted team have done enough to still be standing.
Considering the loss of virtually an entire backline, and so many upheavals off the pitch (Dan McFarland is effectively Ulster’s fourth head coach in the past 10 months after the departed Les Kiss and Jono Gibbes, and the interim role assumed by Simon Easterby in pre-season) that’s reasonably encouraging.
Granted, they sit third with four points, and could ruefully reflect on a couple of try-scoring bonus points that slipped away. They now face the Scarlets in a couple of dog-eat-dog, back-to-back meetings in December.
True to their coach’s word they would fire some shots and die with their boots on, Ulster ran the ball from virtually everywhere, either looking to counter, attack off turnover ball or play through the hands with width and tempo.
Ulster has a proud tradition. It’s a province with an identity. It’s a province that has a deep legacy and a hunger
Marcell Coetzee, especially, and Iain Henderson met big carries with big carries – 13 apiece – and in addition made 24 and 20 tackles. Billy Burns had some deft touches, creating the break from deep by the exciting Michael Lowry which led to the ever-dangerous Will Addison setting up Dave Shanahan’s try. Burns also delivered successive cross-kicks in the build-up to the try by Jacob Stockdale, part of a free-running Ulster back three.
In the event, with last season’s beaten finalists equally intent on utilising Finn Russell’s daring gain line game to launch their big runners and potent back three, Racing also had way more ballast and set piece power up front.
Hence, it panned out as expected, with the Parisians plundering five tries of their own, including one each from a back three who were born and hired to score tries – Juan Imhoff, Teddy Thomas and Simon Zebo. This was PlayStation rugby at a giant cinematic venue by an expensively assembled cast of galacticos – all of which is, to be fair, a remarkable reflection of both Jacky Lorenzetti’s indulgence and his beneficence.
Ulster made more line breaks, 17 to 12, and offloads (18 to 11) in a game where Racing beat 32 defenders and Ulster 27 (it was that kind of contest). But both physically and financially it still felt a little like a David v Goliath clash. You’d wonder how Ulster can close the gap.
“I don’t see that as a gap,” maintained McFarland. “I see it as two teams, and they just work in a different resources world to us. At no stage were we ever sitting there saying we desperately want those resources. We are what we are. We have strengths that I believe they don’t have and we’ll use those.
“Ulster has a proud tradition. It’s a province with an identity. It’s a province that has a deep legacy and a hunger among its fan base and players to do well. As a team, that’ll be our strength going forward and we’ll build on that. It’ll be about getting good players together and pulling them together as a team, that’ll be our strength going forward.”
And it could have been so much closer.
We have back-to-back games against Scarlets. They’re going to be fighting for their lives and I think, to a certain extent, so are we
As Rory Best lamented, at 30-12 down Ulster carved a couple of fine chances for themselves, when a try would have put them within range of a fourth try and a bonus point, with the possibility of another if getting to within seven points of Racing.
“Racing, as number one seeds, look like the team to beat in our pool but at the same time, we have four games now that we feel are four winnable games,” said Best. “Historically, you’ll see that if you can get five out of six or four out of six with some bonus points along the way, you have a chance.
“We have back-to-back games against Scarlets. They’re going to be fighting for their lives and I think, to a certain extent, so are we because we need to get something over there and probably need a win.”
Ultimately though, Ulster cannot hope to compete at the elite Euro level with set pieces such as these. It was always likely that Racing’s famed defensive lineout would do damage, but even allowing for this being Marty Moore’s first full game of the season, the scale of destruction at scrum time was alarming.
Effectively, Racing scored 27 points off their dominant scrum, and while one was created from distance by Russell’s chip, gather and run to send Imhoff away, his two first-half penalties and their opening try by Teddy Iribaren all emanated from Ulster’s woes in this department. It was a handy way back into the game and on to the scoreboard for Racing, and thereafter ensured there was only ever going to be one winner.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Shanahan try, Burns con 0-7; 8 mins Russell pen 3-7; 22 mins Stockdale try 3-12; 28 mins Iribaren try, Russell con 10-12; 32 mins Lauret try, Russell con 17-12; 40 (+1) mins Russell pen 20-12; 45 mins Imhoff try, Russell con 27-12; 49 mins Russell pen 30-12; 69 mins Thomas try, Russell con 37-12; 76 mins Zebo try, Iribaren con 44-12.
RACING 92: Simon Zebo; Teddy Thomas, Olivier Klemenczak, Henry Chavancy (capt), Juan Imhoff; Finn Russell, Xavier Chauveau; Guram Gogichashvili, Camille Chat, Cedate Gomes Sa, Dominic Bird, Leone Nakarawa, Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard Le Roux, Antonie Claassen. Replacements: Fabien Sanconnie for le Roux (13-23 and 60 mins), Teddy Iribaren for Chauveau (25 mins), Ben Volavola for Imhoff (52-58 mins) and for Russell (70 mins), Jordan Joseph for Claassen (57 mins), Teddy Baubigny for Chat, Vasil Kakovin for Gogichashvili, Census Johnston for Gomes Sa (all 58 mins), Léonard Paris for Klemenczak (66 mins).
ULSTER: Michael Lowry; Craig Gilroy, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, David Shanahan; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best (capt), Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell, Marcell Coetzee, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: Eric O’Sullivan for Warwick, Sean Reidy for Timoney (both half-time), Johnny McPhillips for Burns (46 mins), Ross Kane for Moore, Alan O’Connor for Treadwell (both 53 mins), Adam McBurney for Best, Angus Kernohan for Shanahan (both 58 mins), Jonny Stewart for Shanahan (74 mins).
Sinbinned: Timoney (15-25 mins),
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France).