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Ravenhill reward can focus Ulster minds, says head coach Dan McFarland ahead of clash with Sharks

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Duane Vermeulen is set to go head-to-head with international skipper Siya Kolisi

Duane Vermeulen is set to go head-to-head with international skipper Siya Kolisi

©INPHO/Steve Haag

Duane Vermeulen is set to go head-to-head with international skipper Siya Kolisi

So much is on offer on Friday evening that it already feels like we might have strayed into knockout territory.

Ulster overcame their recent crisis by grinding out that win in Edinburgh, two weekends ago and this brought them back within range of a top four finish which, in turn, offers the reality of a Ravenhill quarter-final just as long as they deal with the Sharks in the final round of regular season games.

It’s an opportunity Dan McFarland’s squad cannot contemplate letting slip. If they get the better of Siya Kolisi et al in three days’ time then Ulster will host their last-eight encounter and gain essential-looking currency for their ambitions of chasing down a shot at the URC title.

And the third-placed Sharks are chasing the victory too for the same reason with just the solitary point separating them from Ulster, who currently sit in fifth. Indeed, with just three points between the Bulls in sixth and Munster in second, it’s little wonder that this weekend’s games at the upper end of the table have real edge surrounding them which, as it happens, is all rather positive publicity for the tournament organisers.

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Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

Over to McFarland then to put it all into context.

“It’s very important and in some sense this game has a play-off feel to it with a home venue as a prize,” he explained.

“We’ve both qualified for the quarter-finals, we’ve both qualified for Europe (next season) but the prize is a home quarter-final and it goes to the winner.

“That has a huge impact for both teams.

“Stadiums don’t win you anything but you’d much rather be playing at home than you would travelling.”

So, quite a lot is riding on Ulster’s first tilt at the Durban-based franchise, with its expected sprinkling of World Cup winners, though one potential match-up does indeed look tasty as it could bring Duane Vermeulen and his World Cup winning skipper Kolisi into conflict.

For McFarland, digging out the 16-10 win in Edinburgh should really stand to his side going forward, never mind that the four points allowed them this shot at breaking back into the top four.

“In those last 10 minutes against Edinburgh we needed everything we had, and it could have gone either way,” he continued.

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“But we were good enough with the defensive set and were able to produce the goods.

“We can stand by that and say ‘look, that is still part of who we are and here it is in a very, very important game’.

“We had two yellow cards in that game, lost our skipper after two minutes and lost our very influential centre two minutes later.

“That was backs against the wall.

Ulster will need a full deck for Friday but there are no apparent guarantees regarding Henderson and Stuart McCloskey, while Marty Moore will miss out due to concussion.

While McCloskey picked up a groin issue in the Scottish capital and will need to shake that off if he is to be selected for Friday, McFarland pointed out that his skipper’s availability is not known just yet.

“We’ll have a look at Hendy through the week. We’d be hopeful but we won’t tick him off until later in the week,” said McFarland.


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