Belfast Telegraph

McFarland expects Ulster to maintain high intensity

Ulster v Scarlets, Guinness Pro14 Championship: Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

Learning curve: Kingspan competition winners enjoyed a coaching masterclass with Ulster Rugby senior players Jordi Murphy, Will Addison and Louis Ludik, as well as Head Coach Dan McFarland in Kingspan stadium yesterday
Learning curve: Kingspan competition winners enjoyed a coaching masterclass with Ulster Rugby senior players Jordi Murphy, Will Addison and Louis Ludik, as well as Head Coach Dan McFarland in Kingspan stadium yesterday
Billy Burns

By Michael Sadlier

It's back to PRO14 duties this weekend but for one game only before Ulster hit their back-to-back clashes with Harlequins.

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Naturally enough, the assumption is out there that Dan McFarland may rest some his front-line players for the impending meeting with the Scarlets to not only keep their powder dry for the games with Quins but also to avoid the need for them to go five straight matches.

Mind you, the Ulster head coach wasn't for entirely flagging his intentions as he prepares to do battle with a Scarlets side who will be diluted by Wales playing the Barbarians this weekend.

Though Ulster lead Pool Three in Europe after defeating Bath away and, last week, downing Clermont, they cannot afford to be distracted by this nor indeed the ever-pressing need to keep ticking over in the PRO14.

They sit second in Conference A, nine points behind leaders Leinster and just three in front of the Cheetahs, so McFarland is still very much in the business of chasing league wins and especially at home - this meeting with the Scarlets is also the second of three consecutive home games, with it sandwiched between European outings.

"We don't have to rotate," said McFarland.

"We might change a few players around but this is a really important game for us.

"The way the table sits at the moment, there is no room for manoeuvre. This is not a game where you would feel safe changing everybody out."

He added: "That's not going to be happening."

Whether Billy Burns will be good to go remains unclear after the out-half left the field with a hamstring issue in last Friday's 18-13 victory over Clermont, while Will Addison's citing could also rule him out later today after his hearing in London.

It could also be that John Cooney is rested along with Luke Marshall, Rob Herring and the hard-grafting Marcell Coetzee.

The trick for McFarland is getting the balance right to secure a fifth league win in seven games and not expose too many players to the risk of breaking down before returning to the Champions Cup.

"It's a challenge that you have to take on," said McFarland over the change in mind-set in switching from one competition to another.

"I just think you re-focus. The focus is on the opposition, our mind-set, the way that we approach training and the searching for excellence there.

"The approach is on being competitive there (in training) during the week but also in making sure the guys are ready physically for the weekend.

"We understand that Scarlets will come here full of vigour.

"They are playing a nice brand of rugby, they have a new coach and they are very excited about being five and one," he said of the Welsh region's five wins and sole defeat which has them second in Conference B.

"They have been playing Challenge Cup rugby for the last two weeks which is not as much in the spotlight as the Champions Cup, so for them this is a mental freshen-up and they'll target this as a huge game.

"We have no idea who's going to be there and who's not," he added over how weakened the Scarlets might be due to Wales' call.

"But we're preparing for a strong team."

With another three PRO14 weekends to come, which are all Irish derbies over the festive period, in the wake of the European games with Quins, Ulster want to keep the momentum going.

Regarding Addison's citing, European Rugby organisers EPCR have said that the Ulster player will face a disciplinary hearing today in light of an alleged incident in the home game with Clermont.

Their statement said: "Addison is alleged to have committed an act of foul play in that he tackled the Clermont second row, Paul Jedrasiak, in a dangerous manner in the 31st minute of the match in contravention of Law 9.13."

Law 9.13 relating to dangerous tackling carries the following sanction entry points: low end, two weeks; mid-range, six weeks; top end, 10 to 52 weeks.

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