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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 23 February, 2019

'We got a glimmer of what we're capable of' - Ulster still a work in progress

Dan McFarland’s men had some superb attacking moments but came up well short against Racing 92.

Murray Kinsella reports from Paris

FOR THE FIRST 25 minutes against Racing 92 last night, Ulster looked like the better team as they scored two excellent tries through Dave Shanahan and Jacob Stockdale.

They looked good again in the middle part of the second half, although they couldn’t find the finishing touches after manufacturing some promising opportunities in attack.

But in between those patches and in the closing 10 minutes, we got a firm reminder that patience is required with this Ulster project, which is only three months old under head coach Dan McFarland – the man tasked with bringing the province back towards trophy contention.

Finn Russell with Rory Best after the game Racing's Finn Russell with Ulster captain Rory Best. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Racing 92 are at a different stage of their journey, having secured a Top 14 title in 2016 and narrowly lost last season’s Heineken Champions Cup final to Leinster. With a space-age stadium in Paris La Défense Arena and the notable wealth of Jacky Lorenzetti behind them, they will be contenders in Europe again this season.

Ulster’s 44-12 defeat to Racing last night underlined that the Irish province have a long way to go yet, even if the manner of this loss rankled.

“We got a glimmer of what we’re capable of, then we got a lesson in accuracy,” said McFarland afterwards.

“Throughout the game, we demonstrated we can cause them trouble, but ultimately there were a couple of things that needed to go right for us to be competitive throughout and have a chance of winning.

“One is that if we got a chance to keep hold of the ball, we needed to take it, and we didn’t do that. 

“The lineout was one which didn’t go great, we have to be better in that. One of the areas that we have been used to getting access at is turnovers at the breakdown and I thought they were excellent today, they hung on to the ball really well. That wasn’t an access. 

“The other was we were given a lesson in terms of accuracy in finishing off. 

“So, they were really excellent in that area and we didn’t turn as many opportunities as we needed to into points.”

Teddy Thomas breaks away to score a try Teddy Thomas streaks clear to score for Racing. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The clearly disappointed McFarland remains “a glass-half-full person” and pointed out that young players such as 20-year-old fullback Michael Lowry gained further top-level exposure in Paris.

There were glimpses of brilliance in attack from Ulster too, with Lowry involved in the sweeping move from a scrum in their own 22 that led to Shanahan’s opening try. The double Billy Burns cross-field kicks before Stockdale dotted down were beautiful too.

The scrum was, however, poor again and McFarland acknowledged that Ulster have to be more consistent in that area if other teams aren’t to punish them further.

While Ulster’s attention turns back to the Pro14 next weekend with the visit of Bernard Jackman’s Dragons, the December back-to-back ties with Scarlets in the Heineken Champions Cup will be a key part of their planning in the coming weeks.

After a win at home against Leicester was followed by the heavy defeat in Paris yesterday, McFarland is more aware than ever that his team have plenty of improvement to make.

“We’re a work in progress,” said McFarland.

“We’ll keep working on where we want to go and the style of play we want to play, we’ll work on the defensive side and the set-piece.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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