Belfast Telegraph

McFarland delighted by second half display after five-try Ulster seal bonus point against Quins

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland during their Heineken Champions Cup match against Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop (Adam Davy/PA)
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland during their Heineken Champions Cup match against Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop (Adam Davy/PA)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland praised his side's ability to adapt to the wet conditions and leave the Twickenham Stoop with a vital bonus point win on Friday night.

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Ulster ran rampant in the second half despite the deteriorating conditions, scoring four tries in the London rain and wrapping up a five-try bonus-point 34-10 win over Harlequins.

Luke Marshall, John Cooney, Matt Faddes and Tom O'Toole all crossed for the visitors, who kicked on superbly after a less than clinical first-half that saw them lead narrowly thanks to Cooney's opening score.

The win takes Ulster six points clear at the top of Pool Three in the Heineken Champions Cup and leaves them within touching distance of the quarter-finals for the second year running.

And the nature of the victory left McFarland purring afterwards, impressed with how his team didn't let the conditions drag them down and instead used them to their advantage.

"I think the fact we adapted the way we were playing in the second half and really wrestled control in really difficult conditions," praised the head coach after the game at The Stoop.

"In the first half we knew Harlequins were going to be physical, we expected them to come out physical, and I think they took us a little bit by surprise, especially in the channel around nine.

"They are big men, they have some seriously big men in their forwards and we came out second best in that first half.

"The try at the end of the first half was obviously a big boost, but the way we managed the game in the second half, both territorially with the quality of our kicking there and pinning them back into the corners, but also in the fact that we managed our phase play a little bit better and squeezed out a couple of scores."

It had been a worrying first half for Ulster who, despite dominating possession (62%) and territory (65%), struggled to break down a resolute Harlequins defence and were somewhat fortunate to head in with a lead.

However, the visitors ground away in the second half and eventually found themselves too much to handle for the Englishmen, who had rested several key players for the clash.

"We had a little chat about how we were going to deal with that in the second half with the shape of our runners, what we were going to do to create a bit quicker ball," explained McFarland.

"We felt if we could get quick ball then we could do some damage around the edges, and that was demonstrated in the first half.

"The weather changed the game slightly in that it meant you had to wrestle absolute control with your kicking game, and we were able to do that with Billy, some of his accurate kicking into the corner behind their winger, but also with John's box kicking and our chasing."

With only two games left to go, Ulster sit on 17 points knowing that one win would likely be enough to see them into the quarter-finals, even if that might only be good enough for a best runners-up spot.

It should come in their final game against already eliminated Bath, who have to travel to Kingspan Stadium next month, although they could guarantee their place in the knockouts with an unlikely victory over Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel-Michelin.

But with the province top of Pool Three and with their destiny still in their own hands, McFarland insists they're still thinking about topping the group and potentially bringing a knockout game back to Kingspan Stadium in the new year.

"We have got two games, and if you top your group you have a good chance of a home quarter-final. In order to get to that we have to get past a certain Clermont," admitted McFarland.

"(Clermont) is a brilliant place and something that everyone should experience and we will look forward to that. In addition to that we will have a star studded Bath team that visits us in the end.

"If you want to win your group we have to win both those games, it is as simple as that."

McFarland also confirmed that tighthead prop Marty Moore came off due to illness and not an injury, while Billy Burns will be assessed after shipping a knock in the opening minute.

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