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McFarland's inside info 'pretty useful' for Ulster's semi-final in Glasgow

The northern province’s head coach was formerly an assistant with the Warriors.

UP AGAINST HIS old team, with Ulster fans desperate to see their team back into the semi-finals of the Pro14, the pressure was on Dan McFarland building up to Saturday’s Pro14 quarter-final against Connacht.

All of that said, the biggest stress was making sure that his wife wasn’t left upset.

“The biggest pressure I felt was from Danielle,” joked McFarland after his side’s 21-13 win in Belfast. “She hates playing against Connacht because she gets all the contact from the friends back in Galway.

Ulster celebrate Billy Burns scoring a conversion Ulster fans celebrated on Saturday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“And they’re being very, very kind, but when you’ve lost to Connacht and they’re being kind, that’s terrible. That’s where all the pressure came from; ‘Don’t lose this game, Dan.’ That’s basically it. I can’t wait to see her now, I’ve done it.”

The Ulster boss was in fine form after his side deservedly sent Connacht back to Galway with their season over, Marcell Coetzee leading the way for the northern province as Rory Best and Darren Cave bid farewell to the Kingspan Stadium.

The reward for beating his old friends in Connacht, where McFarland spent more than 15 years as a player and coach, is a semi-final away to Glasgow Warriors, another of his former teams, on Friday 17 May.

The 47-year-old had two seasons as Glasgow’s forwards coach before following Gregor Townsend into the Scotland set-up in 2017.

He’s already faced the Warriors this season, of course, getting well beaten in Scotstoun last month but a play-off game against the Scots adds to the meaning of the occasion.

“Just like the Connacht guys, I get on really well with the coaches over there,” said McFarland. “It’ll be tough, there’ll be a bit of an edge to it but I love that, I love that, that’s just added spice.”

His insider info will surely be handy?

“Yeah, it is pretty useful, as it was for Connacht as well,” admits McFarland. “On a Thursday, the players will come in and in our unit meetings they’ll have all prepped their opposite numbers and we go through the opposition there, they talk about them.

Marcell Coetzee celebrates scoring a try with teammates Marcell Coetzee sealed Ulster's win. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“In a situation where you play against Connacht and you have coached the guys before, you can talk about them definitely. You certainly know their strengths. At this level, there aren’t many weaknesses in players, but you certainly do have an angle on it.”

There is little doubt that Ulster face a challenging task in the semi-final and McFarland underlined the form Glasgow are in, their sheer size up front, and the “humble pie” he was served on losing to them last month.

McFarland knows just how motivated the Warriors will be by the prospect of getting to a home Pro14 final at Celtic Park, as well as how keen they are to right the wrongs of ending last season in poor form.

But Ulster are in a good place too, their confidence having been greatly boosted even in defeat to Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-finals when they very nearly caused a major upset.

“Playing in that game in the Aviva, that was 47 minute ball-in-play time,” said McFarland. “So, straight away you know that you can last the distance. There was a seven-minute passage of play at the end. Leinster are a team that have done that year in, year out.

“We’d never done that, ever. And yet we now know that if we are on the top of our game, that we can do that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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