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'Pain is good, you learn from pain': Ulster take Thomond mauling on the chin

Dan McFarland hopes to have Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale back to boost his depleted squad this week.

It was a difficult night for Ulster in Limerick.
It was a difficult night for Ulster in Limerick.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park 

IT WAS HARD, in the immediate aftermath, to extract many positives in the face of a record defeat, but Dan McFarland hopes this morning’s painful post-match review will serve as a steep, but beneficial, learning curve for his squad. 

The Ulster head coach said he would need at least 24 hours to dissect and digest his side’s 57-point loss to Munster on Saturday evening, the province’s worst ever as it eclipsed the 56-3 defeats to Wasps in 1998.

But the bottom line is that he wants his players to take it on the chin, use the experience to learn the harsh lessons and move on. 

It was a particularly painful night for the northern province, who had gone into the first inter-pro of the season as the only unbeaten side in the Guinness Pro14, but finished it battered, bruised and emphatically beaten.

Already depleted through injuries to key players, Ulster’s cause wasn’t helped by the concession of two early tries, nor the loss of Iain Henderson and John Cooney in the first half, as they rolled over meekly in the face of an aggressive and clinical Munster onslaught.

It made for a chastening night for the visitors, who had a number of young academy-produced players on the pitch, and while trying to maintain upbeat about the individual performances of the likes of Angus Curtis, Adam McBurney and Nick Timoney, McFarland admitted he doesn’t know how damaging the experience will be.

“I am not experienced in that to answer that question,” he said, when asked if morale had been dented. “We have shown enough good so far in what we have done. And also what we are capable of tonight. Even if that is only in small patches, to be confident to move forward.”

Indeed, despite the one-sided nature of the contest and the freewheeling final quarter in which Munster tacked on three more tries to inflict more pain on McFarland’s men, the visitors did at least show promise in attack.

They launched a number of multi-phase attacks on the Munster line and on another night could have reaped more rewards, only Johann van Graan’s side brought huge intensity and work-rate in their defensive efforts.

In contrast to Ulster’s long list of injury casualties and inexperience on the field, Munster were fully locked and loaded and led by the immense Peter O’Mahony, were in no mood to take their foot off the pedal after their own disappointment in Cardiff the week before.

McFarland, in his immediate appraisal, admitted the exertions of their two-game tour of South Africa and the journey back ahead of their round five clash in Limerick may have played a part.

John Cooney goes off as a blood sub Ulster lost both Cooney and Henderson in the first half. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But there was no room for excuses in the bowels of Thomond Park on Saturday evening, and McFarland and his coaching staff will need to carefully manage the way their message is delivered this morning, as Ulster look to regroup for Connacht on Friday.

“We have got a lot of young fellas out there,” McFarland continued. “Two new caps, two new starts. There is a lot of guys who would be very experienced in the club who weren’t here today

“As a coaching staff we don’t write that [performance] off. As a support staff we don’t write that off. We do our analysis.

“The amount of stuff that we then take and deliver on the table on Monday that is the debate. And whether there is anything we can put down and say we definitely have to deal with that now. Or are we better off just refocusing on Connacht. That is something that only comes out of the review that we do in the next 24 and 48 hours.”

Although Ulster had enjoyed a fine start under McFarland, winning four and drawing one of their first five Pro14 outings, the Englishman emphasised the need to be patient, as he looks to navigate the province out of choppy waters and steady the ship in Belfast.

“Coming in right at the start we all knew that [patience was required]. There was a lot of guys with a lot of experience who retired at the end of last season. Coming in there was always going to be a rebuilding process. There was certain things that I was looking for from the squad when we came in and we saw that. But today we were tested and it demonstrated we have got a long way to go.

“It was a good test. It was a good challenge. A lot of fellas will be feeling a lot of pain now, including me. Pain is good, you learn from pain.”

McFarland confirmed Henderson was withdrawn in the 19th-minute for an HIA, while Cooney’s accidental clash with Rory Scannell moments later reopened the head wound he had suffered in South Africa.

Ulster hope to be boosted by the return of captain Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale from their respective hamstring injuries for the Ireland pair’s first outing of the new season in the home inter-pro against Connacht. 

“We have got a couple of the senior guys who are coming back in. We will be a lot better next week,” McFarland promised. 

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Ryan Bailey

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