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Dublin: 14°C Friday 14 May 2021

'You don’t move on from this quickly. It was a chance to be in a European final'

Dan McFarland felt Ulster’s kicking game in the third quarter cost them in Leicester.

Ulster captain Iain Henderson after last night's defeat.
Ulster captain Iain Henderson after last night's defeat.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

HEAD COACH DAN McFarland admitted Ulster are not going to recover quickly from a disappointing 33-24 European Challenge Cup semi-final exit to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road Stadium last night.

Bidding to make their third-ever appearance in a European Final – having reached the Champions Cup versions in 1999 and 2012 – Ulster had put themselves in a good place by the interval, leading 17-6 after tries from captain Iain Henderson and out-half Billy Burns. John Cooney landed both conversions and a penalty while Tigers out-half George Ford nailed two from three penalties for the hosts.

Ulster had dominated that first 40 minutes, but the Tigers gave them a mauling in the third quarter – scoring 20 unanswered points – and the Irish province never recovered.

McFarland conceded that third quarter was where Ulster’s undoing had come.

“It went away from us in the third quarter because we made errors in the kicking game,” he said.

“What had worked well for us in the first half in terms of getting us into positions where we could release our attacking game worked well until the third quarter where it did the opposite as it put them in positions where they could attack and put us under pressure.”

This was McFarland’s first European semi-final since taking over at the helm at Ulster and he admitted the loss would take time to recover from.

“You don’t move on from this quickly,” he snapped.

“That was a chance to be in a European final and I’ll be really disappointed that we demonstrated from the position we were in in the first half where we were able to execute we were by far the better team.

“Their (Leicester’s) kicking game was superb throughout the game, ours dropped off and as a consequence they won the match.

dan-mcfarland McFarland will rotate his team for next weekend's clash with Munster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’re not recovering from that quickly,” he added.

One of the frustrations for Ulster will be the way their physical dominance of the first half seemed to drop away at the start of the second.

“It wasn’t a case of them taking over in the second half, their maul was threatening for the whole game and we dealt with it, contained it just about,” said McFarland.

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“They won a couple of collisions with the big man [Nemani Nadolo] up the middle but that was always going to happen and I think when they get in behind you it’s very difficult to stop those collisions.

“That wasn’t the game. We were well capable of carrying on as we saw in the second half as when we had a chance we broke them open on a number of occasions in the second half.

“The fact was we didn’t put ourselves into positions to be able to get control of the game in that third quarter and it was them who were able to get into positions and wrestle control back,” he added.

Ulster to go to Thomond Park next weekend for a Rainbow Cup fixture against Munster, with McFarland indicating he would be giving an opportunity for those players on the periphery of his squad to get involved.

“The competition we have to play in now is going to be an opportunity for lots of guys to get game time.

“I want to see some of the players who haven’t had much game time as other guys going towards the end of the season. I will look forward to those,” he added.

About the author:

Richard Mulligan

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