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Dan McFarland takes home comfort as Ulster reflect on unbeaten 2019 in Belfast

The northern province have not lost a game at Kingspan Stadium since October 2018.

Dan McFarland before last night's comprehensive win in Belfast.
Dan McFarland before last night's comprehensive win in Belfast.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

GIVEN HOW MUCH he enjoys reading into psychology, you wouldn’t have thought Dan McFarland to be one who paid much attention to jinxes or superstition.

But when asked about his side’s 18-game unbeaten run at Kingspan Stadium, a milestone reached with their five-try, 35-3 win over Connacht that stretches back to their loss against the same opponents in October 2018, he wasn’t willing to be drawn into a lengthy discussion.

“As soon as you start talking about that stuff it ends!” grinned the Ulster chief after his side ensured they would finish 2019 without a blemish on their home record by picking up the full complement against their Irish rivals.

“(Our home form) is not a focus beyond the fact that we love playing at home. It’s important for us to play well at home and win at home, and it will be the same next week.

“We’ve got three games coming up and Munster are going to come here very strong, and it feels like we’ve got three Champions Cup level games coming up. It will be a real test. I think we’ll have to improve a fair bit if we’re going to beat Munster at home.”

The challenge to start 2020 in the same fashion as they finished 2019 will be a strong one against Munster, but first they have to dissect what was a largely comfortable victory over Connacht that saw them bounce back to winning ways with a bang.

Having lost their first game in six last weekend in Dublin to Leinster, the northern province continued their knack of avoiding back-to-back defeats this season by registering their fifth bonus point win of the campaign, putting five tries past Connacht in a strong display at Kingspan Stadium.

Alan O’Connor and Billy Burns crossed in the first half before Robert Baloucoune and Rob Herring finished the job in the second, with Nick Timoney’s late score simply gloss on the scoreline.

john-cooney-with-fans-after-the-game John Cooney leaves the pitch last night. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That’s now 24 tries in their last five games for Ulster, who have seemingly found their scoring touch after a slow start to the season, although not for the first time this season McFarland was left wanting more from his men despite the feel-good mood in the stands.

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“You’ve got to be happy with (scoring five tries) but we also look at how we go about stuff and we’d be a little bit disappointed because we feel with the amount of pressure we had out there we should have scored more tries,” he admitted.

“We made a few mistakes on the edge that could cost us next week, and we obviously lost a few line-outs there, so we shipped a lot of possession and turned a lot of possession over that we shouldn’t have done.

“However, we scored in multiple ways. We scored through multiple phases and there was a potency to our attack. We ended up scoring five tries against them so you’ve got to be pretty pleased with that.”

And, despite the 32-point difference between the two sides, arguably the more pleasing aspect of the game was that titanic 30-phase defensive set just prior to the interval that saw the hosts hold out a barrage of Connacht attacks with 14 men — Herring in the sin bin for repeated infringements — to keep the visitors try-less.

It was another sublime defensive display from Ulster who, if you take out their two games against the Cheetahs (nine tries conceded) and Leinster (eight), have conceded just 16 tries in 11 games this season, and McFarland was full of praise for his men and their dedication to keep out their opponents.

“If we’d let them in for a try there I don’t doubt that we would have still scored 35 points, but it demonstrated the character of the fellas and their attitude to never giving up,” hailed the former Connacht player and coach.

“They could have done and especially after the yellow card. A yellow card that came, what, from two penalties in the space of six minutes down there? I didn’t think it was a yellow card offence. To me it looked as if we’d been really disciplined in there and defended really well.

“The character of the lads then to put a bit of pressure on their scrum and get off the line and keep hitting them back and then eventually they made the error. And what do we have at the end? They didn’t score and they didn’t score a try, and that’s tremendous credit to the lads and Jared’s defence.”

McFarland also confirmed that Springbok No.8 Marcell Coetzee failed a first-half head injury assessment, which led to his permanent withdrawal after just 21 minutes, while a serious-looking ankle injury saw Louis Ludik brought off in the 28th minute.

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