McFarland praises Ulster about-turn as they march on in Europe
‘We’re in a quarter-final, any of those sides is going to be really tough’
Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune scores a try during the Champion Cup game against Leicester at Welford Road. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ulster coach Dan McFarland may be confused about the two different sides of Ulster’s character after their emotional win against Leicester at Welford Road. But he continues to marvel at the way his team dug in and came back at Leicester on their home patch after a troubling first half choked with error.
“I’m really pleased,” said McFarland. “In the changing-room sometimes we have a bit of a chat about how we played, but not really this week, other than to say that the second-half performance showed everything about what we are.
“We had to turn around the game, I thought in all honesty in the first half we were not even close to where we are capable of playing, not even close.
“In the second half we turned that around to a large extent, some of our defence in the second half was magnificent. Absolutely magnificent.”
With the possibility now of facing Leinster at the Aviva depending on the outcome of matches on Sunday, McFarland is more relaxed. Having gotten Ulster out of the group phase for the first time in five years, Ulster have only more to gain for the competition. The quarter-finals will be rough no matter who the opposition. There the Ulster coach has no preference. Leinster at the Aviva doesn’t even tempt him.
“In all honesty at the minute I don’t mind,” said McFarland.
“We’re in a quarter-final, any of those sides is going to be really tough. We’re going away from home, we’re going to play one of the four best sides in Europe as it stands at the moment. We’re in the top eight in Europe, great.”
If anything McFarland’s principle emotion was pride. From 13-0 down just after half-time and back pedalling, Ulster produced some magical play with wonderfully creative tries, one a crossfield kick and another a deft kick over the top of the Leicester line.
“It’s an interesting question and one that I answered earlier by saying it doesn’t show me anything new,” continued the coach. “I know that already, they demonstrated that time and time again this year.
“They’re a tight bunch, they work really hard. Every inch matters to them and that was manifested in the scramble defence.
“There was a couple of times in that second half when they got in behind us and honestly the attitude of the lads and the determination to fly back and realign . . . I had Jared [Payne] next to me bouncing in his seat.
“Ideally I don’t want to be watching defence, but I love it when Jared gets excited. It was a testament to their attitude.”
But whoever, whatever, however, McFarland understands that breaking through is something Ulster has needed to do. Provincial confidence will sail. They will look to the second 40 minutes and learn from the first. There is lots to improve but with a win there are no down sides.
“We’re going to be in an away quarter-final, but Racing are a good side and ultimately they bested us over those two legs,” he said.
“But, in terms of what we’ve done this year, it is a credit to the players who have been out there and the other coaches that we’re in the position we are.
“I wanted to get in on merit. I didn’t want to be sitting here watching the Munster game. I actually said that at half-time in a little bit of a bad mood.
“But they did it.”