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Dan McFarland allays fears over Jacob Stockdale's half-time exit from Ulster's win over Ospreys



Jacob Stockdale was taken off 40 minutes into last night's win over Ospreys.

Jacob Stockdale was taken off 40 minutes into last night's win over Ospreys.

©INPHO/Matt Mackey

Jacob Stockdale was taken off 40 minutes into last night's win over Ospreys.

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has allayed any fears surrounding Jacob Stockdale's half-time withdrawal in Friday night's win over Ospreys.

The Irish international star was making his comeback from almost two months on the sidelines thanks to a knee injury sustained against Munster in early January but did not emerge for the second-half of the victory.

Replaced by Robert Baloucoune, who himself was making a comeback having not played for over a year, McFarland revealed it was always planned to give each returning wing 40 minutes of the action.

"We had minute plans for both him and Robert that they were each going to play a half," he said. "Jacob played really well.

"It was great to get him back on the field and I thought he did a pretty good job.

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"He had a brilliant take of a high ball which is a big part of his game.

"He looked strong in his running and that was really pleasing.

"To get Rob back as well after a much longer lay-off was really exciting. He showed in areas what he can do. He looked strong, he looked powerful, he was bumping players off which was exciting.

"It's always good to get athletes like that back on the pitch."

On an evening when Sean Reidy also made a real impact on his own return from injury, there was a palpable sense of frustration at the final whistle despite the victory.

Finishing the game with three tries for a second week in succession, the failure to secure a bonus-point looms large in the table with only three games remaining.

With no play-off format in this shortened season, only the conference winners will advance and the northern province trail Leinster by a point ahead of the back-to-back-to-back champions taking on Glasgow on Sunday evening.

With both sides having only lost one league game all season, their greater return of such five-point hauls are the reason Leo Cullen's men could conceivably lose in Belfast next weekend but still make a tenth final in 12 seasons.

"Obviously it is frustrating," McFarland said of stalling on three tries once again, especially when Rob Lyttle had a trio of scores correctly chalked off for forward passes.

"It means that it's not in our hands. Up until not getting that point it was in our hands and now it's not.

"It doesn't matter what we do against Leinster next week, if they get bonus-points in every other game they'll finish top of the conference and that's it.

"That's disappointing. I'm proud of the fact that we're in a position close to the end of the season up there competing with Leinster because nobody else is. But it's disappointing.

"Our focus now turns to a massive match against the best team in our league next week."

If the game ended on a sour note, it was the start that would ultimately prove the undoing of the host's bonus-point hopes.

Just as against Glasgow a week prior, they would not score their first points until only a minute before half-time, John Cooney's try and conversion cancelling out Keelan Giles' early opener.

"We're pretty disappointed with the first-half, a lot of turnovers and cheap penalties," admitted McFarland.

"Fair play to the Ospreys. I thought they came with real intent and why wouldn't they? They're one of the form teams in the league. We looked as if we weren't respecting the difficulty of the match as much as we should have been in that first-half and they made us pay for that.

"Respect is maybe the wrong word. Maybe (it was more that) getting the expectation of what we were going to require to get on top of the game early on was slightly off.

"And at this level that we're playing at in professional sport, you don't have to be off by much for it to become slightly messy.

"Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a situation that was so bad that we were in dire straits. Ultimately at half-time it was 7-7.

"Half of our game wasn't great, the other part was pretty good.

"They scored off a charge down after two minutes and for the rest didn't really look like scoring.

"Defence is a big part of the game and ours was excellent. We just didn't fire on the attack side of things outside of those small snippets when we looked pretty good."

Belfast Telegraph

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