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Dan McFarland: Ulster’s Covid complications made Leinster preparation ‘more fun’ as players took responsibility

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Dan McFarland embraced the challenge of working without coaches Jared Payne and Dan Soper this week. Pic: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Dan McFarland embraced the challenge of working without coaches Jared Payne and Dan Soper this week. Pic: INPHO/Bryan Keane

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Dan McFarland embraced the challenge of working without coaches Jared Payne and Dan Soper this week. Pic: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Having passed with flying colours what he calls the ultimate test in the United Rugby Championship, Dan McFarland's admitted Ulster's long wait for action had left them stewing.

For as long as he coaches Ulster, it's unlikely he'll see as big a contrast in two performances than he has in his side's two most recent games.

When they were thumped by his old side Connacht in the Aviva Stadium five weeks ago, frustration dripped from every word as he sat analysing the loss.

After a long time stewing over the international break, his charges stormed from the blocks on Saturday night and fought to the final whistle to secure what was only their second win over their near neighbours in the RDS since the turn of the century.

"Physically we did not play to the level we needed (against Connacht), there was a complete general consensus that that was the case and four weeks is a long time to be sitting and thinking that you did not earn the respect you needed," he said as his side moved level on points with their beaten opponents at the top of the table.

“There was definitely an element of that adding a spark to the fire. It was a catalyst for our motivation coming into this game. It was probably only one spark among many. Playing Leinster in Dublin is the ultimate test in our league, it is as simple as that. If you can’t set your fire for that then what can you set your fire for?

“We knew what we had to do and it is a huge ask, and to be fair to the lads and the preparation they put in during the week, I thought they did a magnificent job.”

That preparation was made all the more difficult with two of McFarland's top assistants absent through the week thanks to Covid-19 protocols. The side trained without their defence coach and Jared Payne and attack coach Dan Soper.

“We did have a couple of coaches missing for the week but one of the points I made during the week is that it is a testament to them as coaches and to the players in general that the work they do and put onto the field at the beginning of the week was seamlessly brought through at the end of the week,” added McFarland.

“One of the big things you often hear is the players have to grasp what they are doing and take control. It is a fancy word that management use – it is called empowerment – and I don’t really like the word.

“I just think it is taking responsibility for what you have got to do.

“Every club works on that and the work the coaches did this week was magnificent in their preparation as it always is. It was interesting that the group pulls together when there are little, tough things that happen like that.

“They don’t become major things. We plough on. We get on with that.

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“I actually quite like those little things that make it difficult – it could be travel problems, disruption during the week with facilities. The last while it has been Covid. I actually quite like the tests they set because fellers get used to things and then they get suddenly hit with things and it makes it more fun to see how people react to that.”


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