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'We knew we had to bring a fire to the game that said 'welcome to Ravenhill''

Dan McFarland’s side showed their teeth before doggedly closing out a win over Clermont.

Coetzee celebrates the final whistle.
Coetzee celebrates the final whistle.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE WAY LAST night’s sensational win over Clermont played out, there were any number of boxes ticked by Ulster in the check-list of Dan McFarland’s under-pinning ethos.

The ‘fight for every inch’ mantra that was installed last season: checked by Nick Timoney being flung up to disrupt the last line-out.

This season’s ‘pack’ mentality was there the whole way through the defensive effort and was triple-checked when that pack’s big dogs Iain Henderson and Marcell Coetzee were aided in forcing the final crucial turnover by Kyle McCall.

And, on a slick pitch that had taken on buckets of pre-match rain, Ulster endeavoured to play a brave, expansive game until the sheets of showers returned for the second half. Check.

“That fight for every inch attitude is literally the foundation of everything we do here,” McFarland said with pride as we point out the relentless energy brought by his side through well over 160 minutes of the opening two Champions Cup pool matches.

However, in year two of his tenure, they are more than blood and guts.

“That’s kind of expected for us. If we don’t do that then we’re in big trouble.

Ultimately that’s not what wins games for us. What wins games is your ability to make big plays and be precise, and that’s what we’re always working on.

“We’ve got some great players who can make big plays. We’ll keep working on our position – it could be around discipline, it could be around handling, but we want to play a fast-paced game. In the wet that is difficult, but we need to be good enough to do it regularly. We were good enough to do it on enough occasions to get the win.”

The head coach had already spoken in glowing terms of the game’s biggest play and John Cooney. Asked to linger on his star scrum-half longer, he broadened the focus out.

 ”One of the biggest things that makes me so proud to hear is that the desire of everybody to carry the weight of what we have to do,” said McFarland.

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“I talked about the collective pressure in defence, everybody takes credit for that and not just the people that play on the weekend, it is the guys who practise during the week. Because it is not possible to produce that kind of thing on the weekend if you are not practising at that level. You have to have a level of effort and intensity of competitiveness to be able to do that at the weekend.”

dan-mcfarland-and-iain-henderson-at-the-post-match-press-conference McFarland and an empty-tanked Iain Henderson post-match in the Kingspan. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The dogged determination to dig in and clamp their jaws on the win was made possible by their terrific first-half form in attack. A mauled Jordi Murphy try and a 13-3 half-time lead felt like a paltry reward for the chances they had created. Luke Marshall came within inches of the corner after latching on to an exhilerating Jacob Stockdale offload and Cooney was guilty of botching a try long before conjuring one out of nothing.

We knew we had to start with energy. We knew we had to bring a fire to the game that said ‘welcome to Ravenhill Kingspan’.

“Traditionally we do that, but people are always surprised when that happens. Look, it’s a great night, and the key thing was to not let the athletes within their team get away with the ball, and we didn’t.

“We were full of energy, big collisions, a lot of work off the ball to get into the position to make those big collisions, and also in our carries. Some of our carrying was excellent in that first half, making yardage, putting them on the back foot.”

And last year’s Top14 runners-up are on the back foot in Pool 3 now too as Ulster lead by two points with two hard-fought wins under their belt.

Next weekend’s Pro14 signals a chance to recuperate and reset before a December back-to-back with Harlequins presents a chance for McFarland’s ‘pack’ to stake their claim as the big dogs leading the chase for a knockout place in 2020.

About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from Kingspan Stadium

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