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Dan McFarland left with bittersweet feeling as Ulster just about hang on against Clermont to close out Euro pool stage


Ulster players celebrate after their win over Clermont in the Heineken Champions Cup (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ulster players celebrate after their win over Clermont in the Heineken Champions Cup (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Ulster players celebrate after their win over Clermont in the Heineken Champions Cup (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

After finishing their Champions Cup pool with four wins from four and 19 points from a possible 20, Ulster head coach Dan McFarland praised the rugby that saw his side to another victory over Clermont but admitted he found it "very disappointing" that they had saved their worst ten minutes of the competition for the conclusion of the game.

In a chaotic finale at Kingspan Stadium, Ulster saw their 34-12 lead whittled down to 34-31 thanks to three quick-fire tries from the French side who used their star-studded bench to an almost devastating effect.

While the northern province clung on thanks in no small part to one big tackle from Robert Baloucoune, the frantic conclusion and late drama felt entirely out of kilter with what to that point had been a wholly controlled Ulster performance.

A few pieces of untidy breakdown work was all that had given Clermont a foothold in the game in the first-half but Ulster ruthlessly exploited Alivereti Raka's yellow card to put themselves in a commanding position.

Two of the side's five tries - and 17 of their points - came when their visitors were reduced to 14 men either side of half-time. Duane Vermeulen's first try for Ulster that brought up the bonus-point was a particularly well-worked effort on a day when the likes of James Hume, Mike Lowry and Baloucoune again impressed.

That his side had, in his words, "rested on their laurels" was the only black mark on the evening for McFarland.

"I think we played some fantastic rugby to get out to 30 points to not-very-many, it was a testament to the way the lads played this evening, some brilliant attacking rugby, some brilliant defensive rugby," reflected the head coach.

"The only thing that marred the first half was errors in exiting our half which allowed them to build their 12 points.

"Some of the tries we scored, the combination of maul, hanging onto the ball in the opposition 22 and some fantastic rugby out from our own 22 really staged what characterised the match.

"The fact that in the last 10 minutes we sat on our laurels was almost quite French, and for me as a coach I found that very disappointing, but that's something I will address with the players, and we'll look at what it takes not to sit on our laurels.

"You have to remember they brought on Camille Lopez and Penaud in the last 20-25 minutes of the game, and these are unbelievable players, who can open up a game on their own.

"It needed us not to be at 95%, but to be at 100%.

"Bottom line is in the last minute we needed one set of defence to see out the game and we got it."

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Ulster were already through to the last-16 of the competition after last week's win over Northampton but are now guaranteed to progress from Pool A as second seeds and know their quarter-final would be held at home should they reach that stage of the competition.

Myriad opponents, including reigning champions Toulouse, remain possible in the last-16 with Ulster now having to wait until Sunday to learn who they will face come April.

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