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Ulster fired up to shake perception they have 'a bit of a soft underbelly'

Dan McFarland’s side have upfront and honest about their mental shortcomings in recent seasons.

ULSTER HAVE BEEN facing up to home truths in recent times under Dan McFarland.

There is now a cold, hard honesty within the northern province’s set-up that they feel wasn’t quite there before.

And that realism about where they’re coming from and where they need to get to is helping Ulster to begin to shake off perceptions that they have been mentally weak.

rob-herring-on-his-way-to-scoring-a-try-despited-the-efforts-of-alby-mathewson Rob Herring scores a try against Munster in Ulster's most recent Pro14 game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

A prime example of the change in mindset came earlier this month as McFarland’s men were preparing to head for Thomond Park to take on Munster.

Bill Johnston, who joined Ulster from Munster during the summer, was asked to tell his new team-mates how they are viewed by the other provinces.

“He was able to say, ‘This is the way we look at you,’” explained Ulster centre Luke Marshall at this week’s Guinness Pro14 media day in Cardiff.

“He used the analogy that if you give an Ulster team the noose, they will hang themselves. Basically, if you give them a chance, they will roll over.

“That was a big motivating factor with us going down there but I feel we are definitely turning it around now.

“Looking at that game, we had a good chance to win it and we ended up losing it by six points. In the past, we would probably have had similar – start well in the first half, but once Munster came back we would have gone out the gate and rolled over basically.”

While it didn’t work out in winning fashion in Thomond Park, Ulster feel they have increasingly been edging tight battles. Their nail-biting win away to Bath in round one of the Champions Cup was a recent example.

“This year and last year as well, we have hung into games better, we have won games which have been really tight in the last few minutes of that game,” said Marshall. “It was something we struggled with in years gone by.

dan-mcfarland-before-the-game Dan McFarland is looking for a steely edge from his side. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“If you are asking other teams throughout the league and in Europe about Ulster one of the things they will say is they are probably mentally weak and definitely a team that can be targeted mentally and physically. That once you tear away the hard exterior underneath, there is a bit of a soft underbelly.

“That is something we definitely targeted and I think we have turned it around.”

The shift has come about partly as a result of greater accountability within the Ulster set-up, as well as a realisation that critical feedback can be constructive.

“One of the things this year and last year to a degree, players probably take criticism easier among each other at team meetings, or with Dan and the other coaches, or with each other, I think we are more accountable,” said Marshall.

“In the past, certainly the squads I have been involved with, at times we struggled with that at times. You had a go at someone in training and they felt it was almost a personal attack probably. You maybe sulked with each for a few days.

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“That is not the case now, we all want to get better as players and if someone gets a bit of criticism, it can make us and you have to take it.”

While Marshall himself isn’t involved tonight against the Scarlets as Ulster return to Pro14 action at Kingspan Stadium [KO 7.35pm, Eir Sport 2]., McFarland’s side will be keen to show what they believe is their new edge.

McFarland has rotated his team for the visit of the Welsh region, with crucial back-to-back European games against Harlequins to come next month.

Louis Ludik will earn his 100th cap in a team that is captained by hooker Rob Herring, while Johnston is at out-half and Robert Baloucoune gets his first start of the season against Brad Mooar’s Scarlets team, who have won five opening six Pro14 games.

 Ulster:

15. Louis Ludik
14. Robert Baloucounce
13. Matt Faddes
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Craig Gilroy
10. Bill Johnston
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring (captain)
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Matthew Rea
7. Sean Reidy
8. Marcell Coetzee

Replacements:

16. Adam McBurney
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Tom O’Toole
19. David O’Connor
20. Nick Timoney
21. David Shanahan
22. Angus Curtis
23. Angus Kernohan

Scarlets:

15. Steff Evans
14. Corey Baldwin
13. Steff Hughes (captain)
12. Paul Asquith
11. Morgan Williams
10. Dan Jones
9. Kieran Hardy

1. Phil Price
2. Ryan Elias
3. Samson Lee
4. Lewis Rawlins
5. Sam Lousi
6. Uzair Cassiem
7. Josh Macleod
8. Blade Thomson

Replacements:

16. Marc Jones
17. Dylan Evans
18. Werner Kruger
19. Steve Cummins
20. Jac Morgan
21. Jonathan Evans
22. Ryan Lamb
23. Ryan Conbeer

Referee: Sam Grove-White [Scotland].

Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to discuss eye-gouging, Munster’s scrum-half situation, and the rest of the provincial news.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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