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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 24 March, 2019

McFarland hopes Ulster's talented prospects 'learn a lot' from RDS experience

The northern province suffered another heavy inter-pro defeat, as their young side were taught a lesson by Leinster.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS 

MUCH LIKE THEIR record defeat in Limerick during the last round of inter-pro fixtures, it was hard to extract positives from Ulster’s humbling defeat to Leinster in the immediate post-match appraisal, but the hope is that these experiences will form part of a players’ development.

There was little to cheer about for the northern province during another difficult trip to Dublin, as Dan McFarland’s young side were completely overmatched by the hosts and fell to a heavy six-try loss. 

Adam McBurney dejected Adam McBurney at full-time on Saturday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It was another steep learning curve for many out there in white, four of whom are still in the academy while Caleb Montgomery and Bruce Houston came off the bench in the second half to make their senior debuts. 

While showing encouraging ambition on the few occasions they escaped their own 22, it was Ulster’s feeble defence which let them down again, during a performance similar to a few others this season. 

There was no shortage of effort — the likes of Greg Jones, Alan O’Connor and Matt Dalton all getting through huge shifts — but lapses in organisation and concentration proved to be their undoing, while 22 missed tackles in the first half certainly didn’t help.

You could hardly blame McFarland for giving the majority of his starting side for next week’s visit of Racing 92 to Kingspan Stadium a night off, but without their frontline internationals, Ulster look worrying fragile and this was always going to be a forbidding task. 

Not only have the province now lost their last nine away inter-pro derby fixtures, but their record in Dublin is particularly grim having tasted success just once against Leinster in the capital since 1999 — that win coming on a 22-18 scoreline at the RDS in March 2013. 

The hope, however, is that these players will learn from the experience and be better for it. 

“I think all of them do, none of them would be playing there if we did not feel they were doing well at training,” McFarland said, when asked which of the young players stood out for him.

“So, yes James [Hume] did well, he has a long way to come. Attack wise he is a real threat isn’t he, the whole time he is on the ball he has lovely footwork, able to offload out of the tackle, he is a confident player and there are areas of the game he certainly needs to develop, but yeah he is a good prospect.

“There are a lot of guys out there, Michael Lowry, Tom O’Toole, he is working on his scrum around the park he is a phenomenon in terms of the work he gets through, his ability to make hits, you can see the work he gets through.

“Eric O’Sullivan this year, Robert Baloucoune, these guys are real prospects. The guys who played out there will learn a lot from coming down here, it is a difficult place to come.”

The Ulster head coach expanded on O’Sullivan’s potential, after the young prop has been namechecked on several occasions by Joe Schmidt.

Alan O'Connor with Jack McGrath and Mick Kearney Alan O'Connor in action against Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Sullivan, the Dublin-born loosehead who came up through the Leinster system before moving north, has enjoyed a breakthrough season and has been identified as a real prospect.

“Eric is a very focused individual, he came up because there was an opportunity in Ulster,” McFarland continued.

“Many times in Leinster the opportunities are difficult because of the quality of the players that are on offer, there is nothing wrong with any of them other than the fact it is so competitive down here. You see that out there tonight.

“Eric came up and he is a very determined individual and this year he has had an opportunity, in terms of what he can do around the park, he is pretty special. He used to be a backrower, he has the engine of a backrower. He will work on hard as any given day as a backrower.

But again he is another guy who is young and has a long way to go. In my career as a coach I have been looking after young props and young hookers and trying to bring them through, it is exciting to work with those players.

It will be a very different team McFarland puts out next week for the serious business against Racing, with the Ulster head coach confident of having Jacob Stockdale back fit and available for the must-win round five tie.

The Ireland winger hasn’t played since the home Heineken Champions Cup victory over Scarlets back on 12 December, and it is believed he had been struggling with a hamstring strain, although Ulster have not confirmed this.

The likes of Rory Best, John Cooney, Billy Burns, Stuart McCloskey, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee are due back after being rested last weekend, as Ulster bid to boost their chances of a first European quarter-final in five years. 

“We play one of the best teams in Europe next week at our place,” McFarland added. “It will be a great occasion.”

O’Connor, who captained Ulster against his native province on Saturday, said: “We’re in a good place in Europe, it’s in our hands, Racing are a good team, but we back ourselves against any team in Kingspan.

“A lot of boys will be coming back as well, I think, so it should be a good challenge, we’ll relish it.

“French teams don’t have a great record against us in Kingspan, so we’re looking forward to turning up all guns blazing, ready to right the wrong we had tonight.”

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Ryan Bailey

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