Dan McFarland has sparked Ulster revival, says Henderson
Ulster star Iain Henderson hailed the impact head coach Dan McFarland has made since arriving at Kingspan Stadium after the province booked a Champions Cup quarter-final date with Leinster in Dublin on March 29 or 30.
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Saturday's 14-13 victory over Leicester Tigers was their fifth in six European games since McFarland arrived last summer and the former Connacht man guided the side back into the last eight for a first time in five years.
"Dan has been absolutely fantastic," said Henderson who earned man-of-the-match honours on his 100th cap. "He has come in and added direction for a lot of the young lads. I was counting in the changing room there, I think there were maybe six or seven who are in their first season in an Ulster jersey. "
Henderson added: “Dan’s come in and added real direction, and maybe a few guys who have been there a number of years have maybe been lacking. We haven’t been competing at the top level the way we should be and I think Dan asked a lot of new guys and old guys to step up.
“I think in that aspect he’s done really well.”
While ultimately, in terms of progression, Ulster’s win in Welford Road was academic thanks to results elsewhere, the victory saw them finish the pool stage as sixth seeds with the highest tally of any of the runners-up.
Their reward, as such, will be a trip to face Leinster in the final weekend in March.
While the exact venues, dates and kick-off times are to be confirmed later this week, the first European interpro since the 2012 Heineken Cup final between the same two teams will be a natural fit for the Aviva Stadium and its 51,000 capacity.
Had Ulster lost in Leicester, they would have been handed a trip to Saracens after Mark McCall’s men finished as top seeds. Having avoided a third quarter-final with the London outfit however, yesterday the two most likely outcomes were either Leinster in Dublin or Racing 92 in Paris.
While Ulster beat the Top 14 outfit in Belfast two weekends ago, they shipped over 40 points at La Defense Arena but it was destination Dublin after Toulouse failed to score a try bonus against Bath yesterday leaving them with the trip to face Simon Zebo and Co.
Leinster secured their place as third seeds with a convincing away win over Wasps in Coventry to, like Ulster, end with a record that read five wins from six played.