Belfast Telegraph

Turning down kicks wasn't what cost us game, claims McFarland after Ulster fall in Clermont

Ulster's head coach Dan McFarland during the warm-up prior to the game against Clermont at the Stade Marcel Michelin (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Ulster's head coach Dan McFarland during the warm-up prior to the game against Clermont at the Stade Marcel Michelin (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland brushed aside any criticism of his side's decisions to go for the corner rather than the posts during their 29-13 Champions Cup defeat to Clermont.

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The loss at the Stade Marcel Michelin saw their hopes of hosting a quarter-final virtually up in smoke - although they will still be guaranteed a place in the last eight by beating Bath at home next weekend - with the province left to rue a strong first-half performance yielding only a one-point interval advantage, their frustration at spurned opportunities only heightened by failure to register any scores during ten minutes with Clermont scrum-half Morgan Parra in the sin bin.

It would all loom large when the Top 14 powerhouse stormed back in the second-half with a pair of tries to take both the game and top spot in Pool 3 ahead of the concluding round of fixtures.

Ultimately Clermont's winning margin far exceeded the tally Ulster turned down in kickable penalties, although there remained a question of whether a greater half-time lead would have changed the complexion of the second-half.

McFarland though defended his captain Iain Henderson's trio of decisions to go for corner during the first 40.

"They scored 29 points," he said by way of explanation for his side's desire to go for broke rather than build a score in a game where they managed only one penalty after John Cooney's converted try in the eighth minute.

"The way I look at it is, when they're down to 14 men and you kick to the corner, if you can't score tries, you're not a good enough team to win in Clermont,

"It's as simple as that.

"If we take advantage of those opportunities and score, which we're more than capable of doing, we'd have had a much better chance of going on and winning the game. If we'd have kicked three points there... maybe... but I don't see Clermont as a team that folds under three extra points of pressure."

A regular tactic that has served Ulster well more often than not this season, in the opinion of McFarland sending the ball to the corner was not to blame, rather the lack of execution when they did.

"We're right in the middle of one of the most challenging places in Europe to come and play," he added. "They had a record crowd here, everything's bouncing, and they're coming in firing so lets not underestimate the challenge that we faced.

"But on a couple of occasions we didn't execute to the level that we needed to. In the second-half we lost two scrums which is unacceptable at this level, you can't lose two scrums and expect to not be under pressure at the other end.

"That's how it happened."

With next week's visit of Bath now effectively a knock-out game, Ulster will be sweating over the fitness of Marty Moore and Will Addison after both left the field with injuries in the second-half.

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