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Ulster couldn't work out referee's penalty demands, admits McFarland

 

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Tight tussle: Tom Prydie of Scarlets is tackled by James Hume of Ulster

Tight tussle: Tom Prydie of Scarlets is tackled by James Hume of Ulster

©INPHO/Alex Davidson

Tight tussle: Tom Prydie of Scarlets is tackled by James Hume of Ulster

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland believes his side were the architects of their own downfall in the first of three quick-fire meetings with Scarlets on Friday night.

With a European double header to come next month against the same opposition, Ulster will be boosted by the return of their Irish internationals by the time the Champions Cup comes around, but McFarland admitted afterwards he expected his under-strength line-up to make more of a game of it in the 29-12 defeat that saw them slip to third in the table.

"We are obviously really disappointed," he said. "We came into this game with a real belief that we could be the first team to come here and win since September 2016, that was a real target for us. But at the end of the day there is a reason why they were champions two years ago and finalists last year, they produce the goods at home."

Ulster struggled to gain a foothold in the game after Dave Shanahan's try gave them an early lead and certainly seemed to struggle to adapt to the demands of unfamiliar referee Quinton Immelman.

"We added to our own demise by giving a series of penalties away and not really understanding or getting very frustrated with the referee at the breakdown area," the coach continued. "We thought we were winning penalties for turnovers, he thought otherwise. Whereas Scarlets were able to win penalties at that breakdown area for similar instances, but there was obviously a difference and it was just neither the coaching team or players could work that out.

"We had to change our tactics in the second half, and that allowed us to defend more strongly, but we just could not get our hands on the ball.

"(When we did) we played some really good stuff the lads and even though we turned the ball over a few times, when we did put a few phases together we were able to get them on the edge attacks, Dwayne Peel was working on that during the week and it paid off. There was some lovely play there and we just needed more ball and if we had done that, there are young lads there with real talent. James Hume had a really good game, Michael Lowry is a really good threat and Robert Balacoune as well.

"Within that there's was a little bit of experience as well. I thought Sean Reidy had a really good game, some good ball carries, Marcell (Coetzee) carried the ball well but we just needed to see more of it."

Ulster made more than 200 tackles in a game where they were starved of possession, especially for the 20 minutes after half-time, and were dogged in defence at times, even if they forced themselves into doing far too much of it.

"It was excellent," said McFarland of their time spent defending their line. "The trouble is if you give the opposition that many chances, especially a team that have been playing the same system so well for the same number of years like the Scarlets have, you cannot afford to give them opportunities to keep coming into your '22'."

Ulster have Cardiff this week before facing Scarlets again, first in Llanelli before the return in Belfast, so naturally learning quick lessons will be paramount. McFarland admitted that it will require a thorough review.

"We will review that game hard because we know there were elements that we know we can be better at, particularly around our ruck decision making in defence, but also in some of our tackle stats in the first half.

"We will review that game hard, and look at it, we hold ourselves to high standards and some of the things in there were not reaching those standards whereas other things were.

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"We are progressing as a team, I do not say that has taken much of a step forward, but we will use it to take a step forward."

Damage to Ulster's standing in the PRO14 was lessened, however, after Edinburgh and Benetton both lost on their travels to teams who had been occupying the bottom rungs of the league ladder coming into the weekend.

Elsewhere, Munster maintained their unbeaten record against Guinness PRO14 rivals Zebre with a bonus-point 32-7 victory in Parma.

Fineen Wycherley, man-of-the-match Kevin O'Byrne, Ronan O'Mahoney and Rory Scannell all went over for tries to keep Munster in second place behind Glasgow in Conference A.

Munster opened up a 14-0 lead inside half an hour as second row Wycherley and hooker O'Byrne both touched down, with Bill Johnston adding the conversions. Johnston's penalty made it 17-0 at half-time and although Zebre reduced the deficit through substitute Renato Giammarioli's converted try just after the hour-mark, Munster pulled away in the closing stages.

Centre Scannell's 69th-minute penalty made it 20-7 before winger O'Mahoney's touchdown was converted by Scannell, who then secured the bonus point with Munster's fourth try two minutes from full-time after a beautiful pass from the returning Conor Murray.


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