Belfast Telegraph

McFarland piles praise on 'tremendous' defence as Ulster bounce back to winning ways against Connacht

Ulster fly-half Billy Burns goes past Peter Robb of Connacht to score his side's second try (INPHO/James Crombie)
Ulster fly-half Billy Burns goes past Peter Robb of Connacht to score his side's second try (INPHO/James Crombie)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland hailed his side's "tremendous" defence as they picked up a bonus point in their 35-3 win over interprovincial rivals Connacht at Kingspan Stadium.

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Although the scoreline suggests a one-sided affair, it was Ulster's defence that came to the fore in the dying stages of the first half with the score reading just 14-3.

Camped on their own line, Ulster held out for over 30 phases to deny the visitors a try, and then proceeded to keep the western province off the board when they saw captain Rob Herring sin-binned.

That, in turn, allowed them to come out after the restart and put the game to bed, Robert Baloucoune and Herring crossing for scores to wrap up the bonus point and secure the win inside ten minutes after the interval.

Alan O'Connor, Billy Burns and Nick Timoney also crossed for Ulster, who rebounded from last week's loss to Leinster by making it six wins in their last seven games.

While they have now scored 24 tries in their last five outings, it was the incredible defensive effort that left McFarland happier, and he was effusive in his praise both for the players and for the system put in place by defence coach Jared Payne.

"If we'd let them in for a try there, I don't doubt we would have still scored 35 points. But it demonstrated the guys' attitude to never give in," beamed the head coach, whose side are now seven points behind Leinster in second place of Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 having played a game more.

"They could have done, especially after the yellow card which came after, what, two penalties in six minutes down there? I didn't think it was a yellow card offence. To me, it looked as if we'd been really disciplined in there and defended really well.

"The character of the lads to put some pressure on their scrum and get off the line and keep hitting them back and make the error. What do we have at the end? They didn't score a try. That's a tremendous credit to the guys and to Jared's defence."

The win also extended Ulster's unbeaten home run to 18 games, stretching all the way back to October 2018 when they were beaten by, ironically, Connacht.

They could improve it to 19 next week when they welcome Munster to Kingspan Stadium for the final of three festive interprovincial clashes in the PRO14 before returning to European action the following week.

However, McFarland has warned against complacency and insists they're not even contemplating how far they can extend their streak, particularly with a dangerous Munster side coming north next Friday.

"It's not a focus beyond the fact that we love to play at home and it's really important for us to play well at home and win at home. It'll be the same next week," said McFarland.

"We've got three big games coming up, Munster will come at us strong next week. It feels like we have three Champions Cup level games coming up. That's exciting for the crowds and exciting for us as players and coaches.

"I genuinely think we'll have to improve to beat Munster next week though."

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