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‘They were the better team and that hurts. Players are gutted in that dressing room’

Ulster coach Dan McFarland reacts to last night’s thumping by Connacht.

A picture of elation and dejection.
A picture of elation and dejection.

ULSTER CAME INTO this one with four victories to their name, their conquests coming against teams from three different countries. So if last night’s defeat provided a reminder of anything, it is that an old-fashioned interpro offers a different test to everything else in this league.

This was a point that Mack Hansen – Connacht’s Australian wing – made in the aftermath, noting the additional level of animosity to proceedings compared to the previous games he had played since he swapped life in Canberra for Galway.

So it’s not as if there was any kind of secret being kept from Ulster. They knew Connacht were a decent side – learning this to their cost last season as well as plenty of years before. But last night’s five-try hammering felt like a real wake-up call.

“Connacht were good,” said the Ulster coach, Dan McFarland, in his summation of the match. “In general, we couldn’t get the go forward in attack that we wanted. They did really well in the breakdown situation – Conor Oliver, especially.

mack-hansen-scores-a-try Mack Hansen scores a try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That blunted our attack and as a consequence we defended a lot. Possibly as a result of that there were the two intercepts came off the back of us forcing things.

“Coming out in the third quarter, it was important that we had an opportunity to put those things right and we didn’t get out of our half. I think they had 74 per cent territory in the second-half and while we put in some really good sets of defence, every time we had a chance in their half we made an error off a scrum or turned the ball over at the breakdown. That allowed them get back into our territory and that kind of sums the game up for me.”

It isn’t that Ulster weren’t tested before now. Benetton asked a few questions, as did the Lions. Zebre didn’t but Glasgow certainly did, Rory Darge posing issues at the breakdown in Ulster’s opening game of the campaign. “But we sorted those,” said McFarland.

They didn’t correct things here, though.

“In that third quarter we simply didn’t have the chance to put it right because we made errors as soon as we had the chance to get up the field.

“Sooner or later, when you’re defending in your third, a team like Connacht will score against you.”

That rang true. Hansen got two tries, one an intercept; the second immediately after a turnover. In addition, John Porch finished a smart backline move; Niall Murray profited from the slick hands of Tom Daly and Paul Boyle, while Diarmuid Kilgallen also scored from an intercept. “That sort of put the nail in our coffin,” said McFarland.

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diarmuid-kilgallen-scores-a-try Diarmuid Kilgallen finishes off his try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Worse again, they have a month to chew over things. Four wins from five games represents a decent start but three of those games were in Belfast, the other in Zebre. They’d have expected to win all those and would have anticipated winning again here.

“I suppose you could argue that in chunks of those games we showed the ability to turn the ball over in attack that caught us tonight. Connacht were more ruthless in exploiting that (than Glasgow, Zebre, Benetton or Lions).

“Is it a good place to be? I can’t think about that. I’m just interested in performance. If we get that right we’ll be where we’ll be but that wasn’t good enough to win a game. They were the better team and that hurts. It is a gutted dressing room.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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