Dan backs his Ulster hero
Robert Baloucoune was the most talked about man in Kingspan Stadium last night as his eventful game helped Ulster to a 19-12 win over interpro rivals Munster.
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The Academy winger scored the game's crucial try on the hour mark to put his side in control of the contest although there were complaints from the visitors that he should have earlier been shown a red card.
The Enniskillen man was shown a yellow card just 11 seconds into the game after an aerial challenge with Darren Sweetnam.
"It was definitely a yellow card, we can't have any complaints," said head coach Dan McFarland.
When it was put to the Ulster coach that his counterpart Johann Van Graan perhaps expected a red, McFarland replied: "He's wrong."
McFarland, naturally, he was more keen to talk about the youngster’s try-scoring contribution.
“Robert is going to be a really good player, he’s got pace, he’s strong, he’s really good under the high ball,” he said.
“The stuff he’s done with the sevens and in the Academy has really benefited him. That try was excellent. If he’s given a sniff he’s going to score.”
With Munster having brought a much-changed side to Belfast, a bonus-point win could have been on the cards but McFarland added that it was only with the second-half improvement that allowed such a chase.
“I’m really happy we won,” he said. “I would have liked the Christmas present of a bonus point and that was well possible after the performance in the second-half.
“I was very impressed with Munster’s physicality in the first-half. They put us under a bit of pressure, hit our ball carriers and as a consequence it was a bit messy at the breakdown.
“When we got quick ball we showed we could cause them trouble but we came out in the second half, determined to speed the ball up and I think we showed in the second half that we were capable of scoring tries.”
When Ulster next play in Kingspan Stadium, the calendar will have flipped to 2019 with McFarland pleased with how his side are progressing.
“We don’t have the complete picture in terms of the way that we play but that’s the long road,” he said.
“I felt we didn’t get our teeth into it as early as we should have done but overall it’s coming on nicely.
“Some of the play in both attack and defence is really good and that fight for every inch mentality is definitely there. That was the big driver for this year, to show that passion on the pitch week in week out and I think we’re showing that.”
Meanwhile, a last-kick penalty saw Cardiff Blues nick the first Welsh derby of the Christmas period in a drab game at the Arms Park, beating the Dragons 19-16.
The dismissal of visiting prop Lloyd Fairbrother on 31 minutes proved to be the critical factor, with Gareth Anscombe condemning the Dragons to defeat at the death.
The Dragons had already lost full-back Zane Kirchner to an early yellow card and the absences allowed the Blues to do just enough to run out winners.
Dan Fish scored a try for Blues with Anscombe kicking four penalties and a conversion.
Jarryd Sage scored the Dragons’ try with Josh Lewis kicking two penalties and a drop goal. Jason Tovey added a conversion.