Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
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# off the pace
'That was a shadow of our normal selves'
Ulster’s first game back ‘won and lost on the sofa last night,’ says head coach Dan McFarland.

ULSTER HEAD COACH Dan McFarland didn’t waste energy suppressing his frustration with today’s season-restarting loss to Connacht at the Aviva Stadium.

“I personally reckon that game was won and lost on the sofa last night watching Glasgow losing,” said McFarland with an acid tongue.

Ulster went into this weekend knowing two points of their own making would be enough to secure a semi-final berth, but that place was sealed before they hit a ruck thanks to Edinburgh’s win over Glasgow last night.

The incentive to win was taken away from Ulster, and that was the only explanation McFarland could see for the loss of wind from his side’s sails before a four-try 26-20 loss.

“I’m searching for a reason why we didn’t have the spark I was expecting. At the moment that’s the only reason.

“It was a little bit disappointing to put out that kind of performance in any game we’re playing in an inter-pro.

I don’t want to take anything away from Connacht, but that was a shadow of our normal selves.”

McFarland conceded that the situation was difficult for his players with no pre-season friendlies to ramp up to the inter-pro standard. He didn’t need to point out that Connacht were in the same boat or that Munster had only eight minutes of a contact training session before putting Leinster to the pin of their collar.

“I was still hoping for more. The bottom line is, you watched Leinster turn up last night in a game that had no meaning for them. They were a lot closer to the money than we were today.

“We’ll go away and have a think about it. It’s not catastrophic, but we don’t feel we played as well as we should have.”

Beyond the result, all in Ulster will clearly take solace in having the semi-final against Edinburgh sealed and set. They can build up to that tie over the next two weeks. Leinster are the opposition next weekend, two sides who will have one eye on a semi-final.

Both Adam McBurney, removed with cramp today, and Rob Herring, withdrawn pre-match, will be fit and ready for that clash with Edinburgh.

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The chance today to create a head of steam going into the knockout phase was lost, but McFarland kept a level head over what today’s performance might signal for the weeks ahead.

“You’re trying to remind yourself of the levels and standards you set yourself around certain aspects of the game… when you talk about the energy and physicality, you want to set standards.

“There’s probably reasons behind that. I’d have hoped we would have found that earlier in the first half. It wasn’t until the second half we started to find a bit of that.”

He adds: “(Momentum) is not crucial. A semi-final is a semi-final. It’s a one-off game. Is it helpful? Definitely. 

“Next week we’ll be looking to compare what we put out in the first half today with what we know we look like. Try and bridge that gap.”
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