Process more important than outcome for Dan McFarland after Connacht defeat

Ulster boss wants his side to step up and play like champions when considered favourites

 

Going into the fifth and final round of URC matches before the November international break the three Irish places for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup were already beginning to look like a fait accompli. But Connacht’s vibrant 36-11 bonus point win over Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, coupled with Munster emerging empty-handed from their 18-10 defeat by the Ospreys, has changed all that.

At a stroke, instead of Leinster, Munster and Ulster vanishing over the horizon, Connacht have trimmed their leeway on Ulster and Munster from 14 and 13 points to nine and eight. The Irish trio still occupy the first three places in the overall table, while Connacht are up to ninth, but only Leinster’s unbeaten record now remains intact.

Connacht’s performance and an attendance of 9,175 - tripling the crowds previously admitted to the Sportsground, thus increasing revenue and broadening their fan base - totally vindicated their decision to move the game from Galway to Dublin.

“I think Connacht, behind the scenes, are working really, really hard to be the best we can be. So, I was really pleased that we could put out a performance that made all the people that made the decision to come here to be very worthwhile. And I think it was worthwhile,” said head coach Andy Friend.

“The players were saying what a brilliant atmosphere we had there today. So, for us to be able to reward that with a good performance, we get confidence out of that, they get confidence out of that, they get recognition for the fact that they were brave enough to make a decision like that.

“Who knows where it’s going to launch to, but it can only be in a positive space.”

Connacht put on a show in front of a larger than usual home crowd in Dublin. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht put on a show in front of the crowd in Dublin. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

It’s said that a team learns more from defeats than wins. Ulster, hitherto unbeaten, had gone into the game as 4/9 favourites and Dan McFarland paused and admitted: “What do I learn? Do you know one thing I know about us? We’re not good when we’re favourites.

“I find that so frustrating,” he added with a heavy sigh. “We’ll pull monster performances out when we’re playing teams that, on paper, are much better than us. I’m not being disrespectful to Connacht there, we were favourites tonight - I’m just saying from the bookies’ point of view. And I don’t think we play as well when we do that.

“To me, I find that frustrating because me as an individual, any competition I’m in, I couldn’t give a f*ck whether they’re good or not. I just want to crush them. I find it frustrating when, let’s say you’re playing a team who you really shouldn’t (beat), you beat them by 20 points but you leave four tries behind. I find that so frustrating, almost more frustrating than losing a game that has been a ding-dong battle.

“I think that’s where we are. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a question of effort and it never has been. It’s not even a question of it mattering and guys working really hard and trying really hard.

“It’s something almost intangible about it that some teams definitely have, and we’re searching for that. We obviously win a lot of games. We still win a lot of these games. But I think where it makes a difference is that process being the most important thing - what you actually do and not the outcome - I think that makes the difference between champion teams and teams that are just really good, when the actual process and the doing of the work on the field and the training paddock becomes more important to them than the outcome. That’s what makes champion teams.”

McFarland stressed that his frustration was not disrespectful to the province where he spent 15 years as a player and a coach.

“I’m 100 per cent not. I said it in the week, they’re a quality team that - at the moment they don’t - always sits towards the top of our league, and there is no disrespect. They beat us fair and square tonight. I appreciate that if you take what I said there in isolation, that’s maybe what that sounds like and if that was how it came across. Please, if you don’t mind, thank you.”

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