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Dan McFarland: ‘We are not good as favourites and I find that so frustrating’

Ulster coach was annoyed by his team’s 25-point defeat on Saturday.

Hume and Lowry show their annoyance.
Hume and Lowry show their annoyance.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

YEAR AFTER YEAR, Ulster have been knocking on the door and year after year they have been left outside on the step, close enough to know the neighbours are celebrating, wondering what it is they have to do to get an invite.

Well now we know. After putting it up to Leinster home and away in last season’s Pro14, having reached the final of the same competition a year previously, having got to the semis of last season’s Challenge Cup, it’s clear that Ulster have something going for them.

Yet there’s a difference between good and great. Leinster know how to bridge that gap and win trophies. No one else in this URC have proved yet that they can join them.

“What do I learn? Do you know one thing I know about us? We’re not good when we’re favourites. I find that so frustrating,” McFarland said after Saturday’s 36-11 defeat to Connacht in the Aviva.

“We’ll pull monster performances out when we’re playing teams that, on paper, are much better than us. Now I want to make it clear, I’m not being disrespectful to Connacht there. We were favourites tonight – from the bookies’ point of view. And I don’t think we play as well when we do that.

“To me, I find that frustrating because me as an individual, any competition I’m in, I couldn’t give a f**k whether they’re good or not. I just want to crush them.

john-porch-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-conor-fitzgerald John Porch reacts to scoring a try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Let’s say you’re playing a team who you really shouldn’t (beat), you beat them by 20 points but you leave four tries behind. I find that so frustrating.

“Almost more frustrating than losing a game that has been a ding-dong battle. I think that’s where we are.”

As he finished his explanation of why his team hadn’t performed on Saturday, McFarland paused before reasserting a point he had made earlier, that this critique of his own team’s shortcomings was not to be misinterpreted as a dig at his old side, Connacht.

The Ulster issue is clearly a psychological one. “This isn’t a question of effort and it never has been,” said McFarland.

“It’s not even a question of it mattering and guys working really hard and trying really hard. It’s something almost intangible about it that some teams definitely have, and we’re searching for that.

“We obviously win a lot of games (18 out of their last 21 matches in this tournament). Where it makes a difference is that process has to be the most important thing – what you actually do and not the outcome. That makes the difference between champion teams and teams that are just really good.

“When the actual process and the doing of the work on the field and the training paddock becomes more important to them than the outcome. That’s what makes champion teams.”

It sounds like a deep-seated lack of belief, then? “I don’t think it’s that,” said McFarland. “No, I don’t. I definitely think they know what they’re capable of because the evidence is there.

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ethan-mcilroy-competes-in-the-air-with-john-porch Ulster lost too many 50/50 battles. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The interesting thing is the difference between the teams – the very few teams – that dominate consistently.

“The pressures of their own performance outweigh the pressures of the outcome. That makes the difference.

“There are barely any of those teams, but that’s what we’re chasing. The teams that do that, their slip-ups are very rare.”

In the URC, there is only one of those teams: Leinster. In England, there are more, Saracens re-emerging, Leicester maturing, Harlequins also among the elite. France have Toulouse and Racing. La Rochelle have been strong, Lyon and Bordeaux are becoming stronger.

But in this league, one team has been dominant for four years and everyone else has looked on.

“It’s got to take a strange weekend and an unbelievable performance from the opposition to take those (champion) teams down,” said McFarland. “We weren’t on in a particular area of the game, and Connacht were,” he said.

They have a month to figure out how to change that.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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