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Inches mentality the 'massive positive' as McFarland takes stock after first year as a head coach

The former Scotland forwards coach helped Ulster make massive strides forward this season.

DAN MCFARLAND WAS quite a late addition to the Ulster backroom before the season kicked off as contract wrangling kept him tied up with the Scottish Rugby Union until August.

However, once in situ, he made his overriding message crystal clear to an Ulster squad emerging from arguably the lowest ebb in the province’s professional history. 

He first used the phrase “fight-for-every-inch mentality” when he first sat down to speak with the media in Belfast. He freely admitted it was nothing new or revolutionary, but as matches ticked by with last-gasp wins over Scarlets and Edinburgh or a dramatic draw in Bloemfontein, the more McFarland spoke the credo out loud, the more it seemed to manifest on the field.

By the time it came time to face Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-final, it was a non-negotiable baseline for anything that might come after.

Ulster’s Kieran Treadwell Kieran Treadwell reacts after defeat to Leinster. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“That attitude is only a foundation. It’s something you can build on.  It has to be there, it will be there. But it has to be more than that,” he said the day before the agonising tight defeat at the Aviva Stadium.

Today, in a ‘season review’ posted on Ulster’s website McFarland referred to the cultural targets he had in mind before the season rather than any quantitative measures that may have been reflected in progress to Europe’s last eight and the Pro14 semi-finals.

“I didn’t have any specific expectations in terms of results. However, I had very specific goals in terms of what we wanted to achieve culturally and in the way that we played,” McFarland says.

We were really pleased with the work that the guys have done on the pitch and the development that we’ve made there. We demonstrated a passion and competitiveness that is so crucial to the fabric of Ulster Rugby.”

On the second-place finish, behind only Leinster, in Pro14 Conference B, the rookie head coach added:

Dan McFarland before the game McFarland on-field ahead of a clash with Glasgow. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

“Those positions were fought for. I think there were 15 games in which we finished within eight points of the opposition, and we only lost two of those.

“So by no stretch of the imagination were we cruising into play-off games like Munster, Glasgow and Leinster. We had to fight for every inch, every point. That’s a massive positive but it also demonstrates that there’s a huge amount of work to do to ensure that we can do that year in, year out.”

Formerly a forwards coach with Connacht, Glasgow Warriors and Scotland, the 47-year-old admitted there had been a learning curve in taking the hot seat for the first time. And he is intent on continuing to learn.

Development is the keyword in McFarland’s aims for next season too. After he looked forward to welcoming Bill Johnston, Gareth Milasinovich, Jack McGrath, Sam Carter and Matt Faddes to the playing personnel and Roddy Grant as forwards coach the ex prop said:

“We want to develop our playing style, we want to develop our culture and we want to push forward with the aim of being a team that can consistently competes for championships.

“We’ll continue to assess ourselves on how well we’re doing that and the rate at which we’re doing that.” 

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Sean Farrell

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