Dan McFarland. James Crombie/INPHO
Dan McFarland

'Will this be a pivotal moment? You can’t say that unless you start playing more consistent rugby'

The Ulster head coach said a draw with Connacht would have felt like a loss in the circumstances.

THE RELIEF WAS palpable with Ulster coach Dan McFarland as he prepared to depart a venue where he spent a decade and a half as a player after a remarkable Connacht comeback came up just short at the Sportsground.

McFarland was part and parcel of many great Connacht recoveries in his time in Galway and wasn’t in the least surprised by their comeback, but this win was all about ending an horrendous December for his men after chastening defeats to Leinster, Sale Sharks and La Rochelle.

Ulster were coasting to victory when they led 22-8 with 78 minutes on the clock but late tries from replacements Jarrad Butler and Adam Byrne slashed the lead to two but with the clock five minutes in the red, Jack Carty’s conversion from the right touchline swirled agonisingly the wrong side of the left post.

“It could have felt like a loss if we had drawn that given what had happened to us over the past few weeks,” admitted McFarland after the 22-20 win as he prepared for a four-hour bus journey back to Belfast that would now be a little bit less sombre. But he knows there is work still to do.

“Will this be a pivotal moment? You can’t say that unless you start playing more consistent rugby. We just need to keep working on what we do best.”

The Ulster maul delivered a brace of tries for hooker Tom Stewart and an opening half effort from Rob Lyttle, but they opted for a kick at the posts after 72 minutes.

It proved to be the winning score but a kick to the corner could have delivered a bonus-point try and put the game beyond Connacht and not allowed them a sniff of a revival.

“That would have been standard Connacht, wouldn’t it? How many times have you seen that happen here,” added McFarland.

“We had a penalty for 22-8 and maybe we could have gone for a maul but the players made that decision. How many times have teams come here and eked out a lead, but are hanging on desperately at the end? More often than not, they end up winning.

“At the time I didn’t want us to kick for goal to go to 22 points. I thought our maul was going well enough to get a try and then we could put it to bed for real. But you never know. Who made the call? The players, as they would normally. I tend to try and not interfere with that.”

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