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Dan McFarland left hurting after Ulster hammered by Connacht to end unbeaten record


Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is tackled by Tom Daly and Conor Oliver of Connacht (INPHO/James Crombie)

Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is tackled by Tom Daly and Conor Oliver of Connacht (INPHO/James Crombie)

©INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is tackled by Tom Daly and Conor Oliver of Connacht (INPHO/James Crombie)

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland admitted he was "hurt" by his side's thumping defeat at the hands of Connacht in the Aviva Stadium.

Decidedly second best in Dublin, the northern province succumbed to a first reverse of the season with Andy Friend's outfit running over for five tries in a one-sided affair.

Having trailed 17-6 at half-time, the squad who came into round five top of the table offered nothing after the turn having been forced to spend virtually the entire second 40 in defence thanks to an error-laden performance in possession.

When that Connacht pressure eventually told, Ulster were staring down the barrel of their worst defeat in this competition since the 2020 final against Leinster, the 36-11 scoreline not helped by two intercept scores from the hand of out-half Billy Burns.

McFarland was frustrated by a similar inability to hold onto the ball from his side in the win over the Lions last weekend but, having got away with such transgressions in the recent past, they were ruthlessly exposed by their Irish neighbours, who made a nonsense of the idea they'd be at a disadvantage having moved the game away from The Sportsground.

"That's a gutted dressing room," he reflected after losing to his old side for a third time in four games. "Any dressing room after you've lost an interpro but to end up with a result like that, we're very disappointed.

"But we've just got to refocus and pick ourselves up.

"I suppose you could argue that in chunks of those games we showed the ability to turn the ball over in attack that caught us tonight. Connacht were more ruthless in exploiting that

"Is (four wins from five) a good place to be? I can't think about that. I'm just interested in performance.

"If we get that right we'll be where we'll be but that wasn't good enough to win a game. They were the better team and that hurts. Unfortunately we don't have a game next week and that's really frustrating.

"We'll go away while the internationals are on, we've seven players in that squad, and we'll enjoy watching them while we get our heads down and work on what we need to as we've planned to do."

While full of praise for Connacht's efforts, McFarland knew his side had never given themselves a chance.

"I thought Connacht were good," he said. "In general, we couldn't get the go forward in attack that we wanted.

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"They did really well in the breakdown situation, a couple of key steals. That blunted our attack and as a consequence we defended a lot. Possibly as a result of that there's the two intercepts came off the back of us forcing things and good play by them

"Coming out in the third quarter, it was important that we had an opportunity to put those things right and we didn't get out of our quarter. I think they had 74 per cent territory in the second half.

"We put in some really good sets of defence but every time we had a chance in their half we made an error off a scrum or turned the ball over at the breakdown and allowed them back into our territory.

"Conor Oliver was excellent at the breakdown and we didn't deal with that very well.

"The bottom line is we had to deal with Glasgow at the breakdown in the first game where Rory Darge was excellent but we still sorted out the gainline and the tempo in the game. We didn't here.

"With the intercept we ended up 17-6 at half-time and in that third quarter we simply didn't have the chance to put it right in there because we made errors as soon as we had the chance to get up the field and allowed them straight back into our territory.

"Sooner or later, when you're defending in your own third, a team like Connacht will score against you and two intercepts sort of put the nail in our coffin."

Ulster will be out of action until November 27, taking stock over the international window before resuming their campaign with a trip back to Dublin to face Leinster, this time in the RDS.

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