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Head coach Dan McFarland warns his Ulster heroes they will need more to win European quarter-final

 

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Ulster's Marcell Coetzee scores the opening try as the province see off Bath to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Ulster's Marcell Coetzee scores the opening try as the province see off Bath to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

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Ulster's Marcell Coetzee scores the opening try as the province see off Bath to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland declared himself happy with how his side have improved from last season after they secured their return to the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.

The province made hard work of seeing off Bath at Kingspan Stadium, but ultimately triumphed 22-15 to ensure they have a knockout tie to look forward to in April.

It's the second year in a row that Ulster have made it to the quarter-finals, both since McFarland took charge at Kingspan Stadium, with the province eager to go further than last year's last-eight defeat to Leinster.

In order to do so, they will have to show signs that they are a better side than 12 months ago, but McFarland believes they have already done that in winning five of their six pool games and finishing as the best-placed runners-up of the five pools.

However, in the same breath the coach also warned his charges that only their best will be enough to progress from the last-eight, and that means showing a lot more than they did against Bath.

Ulster were not at their clinical best, with tries from Marcell Coetzee, Robert Baloucoune and Will Addison seeing them over the line, but they were unable to truly put an already eliminated and under-strength Bath side away with conviction.

That, in turn, led McFarland to issue a warning to his side that, although proud that they are back in the knockouts, that kind of display won't do it when it comes to April.

"I'm very happy. Two years in a row we won five pool games and booked ourselves a quarter-final," praised the head coach.

"Last week I was a little bit disappointed we didn’t get a home quarter-final, but for a club at the stage we’re at to be able to say that we’re a top-eight team in Europe two years in a row, I’d be pretty happy.

"If we play as well as we can we’re in a better position (than last season), definitely. But if we don’t we’re not far away from losing comfortably.

"I think our attack shape and our ability to prise open defences is better now. I think our defence is definitely better now. Our kicking and our aerial game had progressed in the last two months.

"So I think yes, at the top of our game I think we are. I don’t think we can win a quarter-final away from home - statistically it would tell us we can’t, or are less likely to - unless we are at our absolute best."

The coach also admitted that he felt the side became over-confident after Coetzee's early score and that was what led to them unable to kick on, eventually heading in at the half-time interval tied at 7-7.

Fortunately he got a response after the restart, with Baloucoune and Addison crossing quickly, and set the platform for Ulster to hold on and rubber-stamp their place in the final eight.

"I reckon we didn't play very well in the first half, potentially, because we overestimated our ability to control the game, which was confirmed when we scored reasonably early," added the Englishman.

"It was very un-us. Early on, we lost a couple of collisions, which was going to be a big focus for us like it is most weeks. Beno Obano took the ball over the gainline on a couple of occasions and we looked like we were quite passive there and I thought, 'This is really unusual for us.'

"I think we came out (after half-time) with more energy, more fizz. The crowd did a fantastic job to be far in terms of trying to pick us up and drive it on, and there were a couple of occasions there when they really got going.

"We had a better kick-chase in the second half, more aggressive defence, and obviously we had a few opportunities to score in attack which was good. We still had the odd set-piece malfunction which didn’t really help but, yeah, definitely better in the second-half.”

McFarland confirmed that tighthead prop Tom O'Toole was withdrawn in the first half with a rib injury, while Addison was taken off as a precaution with a recurrence of the calf injury sustained against Clermont.

Belfast Telegraph