Leinster celebrate a penalty against Ulster. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
closing the gap

'14 of them just won the Grand Slam... I can’t change the demographics'

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland believes his team can compete with the best.

ULSTER HEAD COACH Dan McFarland has backed Leinster to go on and win their fifth Heineken Champions Cup title this season after watching his side come out second best in last weekend’s inter-provincial round-of-16 tie in Dublin.

Leinster powered their way to a 30-15 victory to secure a home quarter-final against Leicester this Friday evening when they will be firm favourites again.

Leo Cullen’s side will also be at home in the semi-finals if they advance past Leicester, while the Champions Cup final will be played at the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster may have to overcome Toulouse in the semi-finals, while they could meet La Rochelle in the final, having lost to Ronan O’Gara’s men in last season’s decider, but McFarland thinks Cullen’s side should have enough.

“It’s got to be Leinster, hasn’t it?” said McFarland when asked who he would back in a hypothetical final between Leinster and La Rochelle.

“They’ve just won the Grand Slam… sorry, 14 of them just literally won the Grand Slam.

“I think so. I think they’re a team that learns as well. But La Rochelle are a good team too. Jeeze, I don’t know, I don’t know. I think Leinster. I’m going to put my money on Leinster. Well, sorry, I’m not allowed to but if I was I would put money on Leinster.”

Saturday evening’s defeat to Leinster was Ulster’s 13th in 16 games against Cullen’s side, with five of those defeats coming in their five knock-out meetings.

dan-mcfarland Ulster head coach Dan McFarland. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The gap between Leinster and the other Irish provinces doesn’t appear to be closing but McFarland refused to accept that it’s demoralising.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “It is what it is, isn’t it?

“I can’t change the demographics. They’ve just got way more rugby players, way more earning potential in terms of the money. Nothing changes that. It would be like taking any other job and saying, ‘Oh God, I’m always demoralised because so-and-so has got more money.’ You just get on with the job, don’t you?

“You believe in what you’re doing and you look to get the best out of yourself. I genuinely believe that when we play well we can cause Leinster trouble so that we can beat them, and that’s the way we’ll go about our business.”

While McFarland freely admitted that Leinster are operating at “a very high level,” he believes that his Ulster team can compete with the best sides when they’re near their own peak. He also feels that the northern province’s young players will keep getting better.

“We’re right up there with the teams that are fighting and winning silverware, so as a team we should have confidence that we’re able to do that. But we have to be at our best to do it,” said the Ulster boss.

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