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'He said: 'Why can you sprint when I blow the whistle but you can't sprint to chase a kick when you're tired?''

Darren Cave gives Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey an insight into how Dan McFarland has transformed Ulster.

Ulster boss Dan McFarland.
Ulster boss Dan McFarland.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

EPISODE THREE OF The42 Rugby Weekly’s provincial report-card series delved into Ulster, with former Ireland centre Darren Cave joining Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss how his native province have managed to turn the corner since an infamous and disastrous 2018.

On a scintillating RW debut, Cave — who retired last summer after making nearly 230 competitive appearances for Ulster — provided a fascinating insight into the career progress of Iain Henderson, the criticism levelled at Jacob Stockdale over the last 12 months, why he believes Robert Baloucoune will go on to achieve great things in the white jersey and the dilemma facing another young up-and-comer, Michael Lowry.

The 33-year-old also gave his first-hand account of how Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has transformed the province, explaining in detail how the former Connacht, Ireland U20s and Scotland assistant coach has revolutionised Ulster’s attack play in a bid to give them the best chance of besting even larger, more physically imposing teams.

You can listen back to the episode in full at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts.

“The speed of training is something that Dan completely and utterly changed,” said Cave, who worked under the 47-year-old coach last season.

“Everything they do is all about speed. Dan was smart enough to realise that if Ulster were going to do any damage, it wasn’t going to be through this arm-wrestle which we see from some teams. If Ulster are going to go and beat Toulouse, there has to be control — of course there does — but it has to be done with speed.

“The Toulouse game may not happen but let’s assume it was going to happen: what’ll the pitch be like? It could be heavy — that’s often the case over there; lots of big, big, big forwards that want to trundle, they want to wait. No. It has to be quick. You have to go to the lineout quickly, you have to do everything quick. And you have to get everyone on the pitch’s heart rate so high that they’re uncomfortable and then back yourself to handle it best.

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“Dan has a number of drills where he has 15 on 15 set up but he has all of the coaches around the place with extra rugby balls so if a ball ever goes out, one is tossed back in.

Essentially, he does six, seven-minute passages of play and then, at the end of it, he’ll double-blow a whistle and everyone has to sprint into him. And the first time he did that, he showed it on the video afterwards. He had told everybody, ‘When I double-blow the whistle, you need to sprint in or else we’re doing fitness — we’re doing extras.’ So, he showed the video and he showed the last 30 seconds, minute, of play, and everyone’s walking; they’re absolutely [wrecked] — tanks are empty. And he double-blew the whistle and everybody sprinted to him. Nobody wanted to be last, nobody wanted to do extras. And he showed it and he said: ‘Why can you sprint when I blow a whistle? I’m not going to be on the pitch to blow the whistle twice. Why can you sprint when I blow the whistle but you cannot sprint to chase a kick when you’re tired?’

“That sort of mindset,” Cave added. “He’ll say: ‘The team with bibs: line out on the 40 — on the 10-metre line, there — and you’ve got 20 seconds to call it [a play].’ But you might be 40 metres away, and both teams will have to sprint into position, get the calls, and if it doesn’t start in 20 seconds, then there’s punishments.

“And it’s evident in Ulster’s play. If you look at when Ulster have the ball, when the ball is presented before the scrum-half arrives, that is Ulster at their best. So, when you see John Cooney arriving — ‘zip!’ — and [the ball is] away, away, away, that is when Ulster are at their best and that is something that, when you’re watching them, you should look for.”

In the third episode of a four-part series, Darren Cave joins Murray and Gavan to run the rule over his former side, Ulster, and how Dan McFarland has reshaped the northern province.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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