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'When I take a step back and look at it objectively that is a big shame'

URC head of officials Tappe Henning admitted Callum Reid’s disallowed try should have stood.

Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

ULSTER HEAD COACH Dan McFarland claimed he wasn’t surprised at United Rugby Championship head of officials Tappe Henning’s admission that Callum Reid’s disallowed try against the DHL Stormers should have stood.

Reid crossed the whitewash in the 77th-minute for a try that was originally awarded by referee Gianluca Gnecchi but was then overturned for an apparent knock-on from the loosehead prop when TMO Quinton Immelman intervened, with the officials rejecting captain Alan O’Connor’s pleas that the ball was instead dislodged by the arm of Stormers back row Hacjivah Dayimani.

But, speaking on SuperSport’s Final Whistle, Henning conceded that the try was indeed legal, criticising the process that the officials used to reach their conclusion and in particular questioning why they ignored Gnecchi’s original on-field decision of try when deliberating.

Ulster would go on to lose the game 23-20 in Cape Town and, as a result, lost ground in the race to finish top of the URC standings and, more importantly, saw the gap between themselves and Munster and Glasgow Warriors below them cut in the race for potential home advantage throughout the play-offs.

alan-oconnor-with-the-media-after-the-game Source: EJ Langer/INPHO

McFarland, who did not hold back in his assessment of the decision immediately after the game, was pleased that his stance was backed by Henning but acknowledged there was still a degree of frustration of what it does to the standings.

“It wasn’t news to me,” he said of Henning’s comments. “It is what it is, it’s just a fact. It’s a try, very simply. The ball is dislodged out of Callum’s hands, it goes backwards, he lands on it and scores a try. It’s not complicated in any shape or form.

“I put in my report to Tappe yesterday and there were a number of instances in the game that were of high import. I await his reply. I was lucky enough to see the SuperSport interview. I know on the big issue what his reply is going to be.

“From our perspective, it is just a massive shame that the log for the rest of the season will not be a true reflection on how we have done. Given how competitive it is at the top of the table, from my perspective when I take a step back and look at it objectively that is a big shame.

“From my perspective as head coach, and trying to support what we are doing here, I have to put that behind me and refocus on what we have to do this week. My job is to put in the referee’s report, my job is to follow up and find out what the consequences are and deal with all that side of things.

“The lads’ job and the coaches and support staff’s job is to refocus and get on with winning what is going to be an even bigger challenge this week.”

Ulster will now look to literally and metaphorically put the events of Saturday behind them having already travelled to Pretoria in preparation for the second game of their South African double-header against the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

Having rested several players – including captain Iain Henderson, flanker Nick Timoney and centre James Hume – for last week’s defeat, it will be interesting to see how McFarland approaches team selection for this game given only seven days later they are in France for the first leg of their Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie against defending champions Toulouse.

On one hand, the need to keep players fresh for the trip to the Stade Municipal is paramount if they are to challenge on two fronts but, equally, maintaining their push in the URC, arguably the competition they have more chance of winning, is just as important.

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“I don’t want to give too much away,” added McFarland on team selection.

“The bottom line is that given the series of games we have here, two in South Africa which are really tough, two games against last year’s European champions, followed by Munster and Edinburgh, the playing resources definitely have to be managed but at the same time games have to be won.

“It is a tricky business, a lot of selection is giving guys opportunity because we are at the thick end of the season; guys are fighting for places in these big games but at the same time it is about combinations and what combinations we think can win games.”

This week will also see Ulster reunited with Marcell Coetzee, who departed the province in January 2021 to return to South Africa and the Bulls, and while he will pose a significant threat at Loftus Versfeld, McFarland maintains the game-plan isn’t centred around stopping the flanker.

“They are stacked, it is not just Marcell, they have tremendous power athletes up front. They play a very physical game,” he warned.

“I am looking forward to catching up with Marcell. We are all aware of what he is capable of doing on the pitch. He’ll come to see us in the hotel. We will have a coffee and a chat and see how he is getting on, which will be really nice to catch up.”

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