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Ulster haven't arrived yet, warns McFarland after back-to-back Euro victories

 

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Consistency call: Ulster coach Dan McFarland

Consistency call: Ulster coach Dan McFarland

Consistency call: Ulster coach Dan McFarland

Having showed what his side are capable of over the past two weeks, Ulster coach Dan McFarland has said the true test will be producing it on a more regular basis.

The province took 10 Champions Cup points from a possible 10 against the Scarlets, completing the job against last season's beaten semi-finalists with a four-try 30-15 win in Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

With a home game against Racing 92 and a trip to Welford Road to face familiar foe Leicester, Ulster have given themselves real hope of a first European quarter-final since 2014. Before then though, it's back to the PRO14 and three straight festive derbies.

"I think if you watch closely enough the building blocks have been there all along, sometimes in terms of results it takes a while," said McFarland.

"We're not patting ourselves on the back and saying "'we're there" - we've won two games in Europe because we've played well. Really good teams put this together over a long period of time. If we're too happy about where we are now, we forget about taking the next step and it's always about getting better.

"It's the consistency of performance. You want to maintain the level you've hit and always add on top of it.

"I don't see us at the level of speed of collective play that I want us to be at. That's an ongoing process. Guys understanding what it takes in both attack and defence to put pressure on the opposition. That's a week-to-week basis. We want to develop the young players, that's massive for us.

"We've got a good core group of relatively experienced players and some real star quality but we also have a layer of very talented, very inexperienced players. It's really important we focus on the day-to-day of that."

After a lengthy association with Connacht, McFarland's experience of interpro battles since pitching in with Ulster can be described as nothing short of harrowing. When ravaged by injury, unavailability and the physically draining experience of two weeks in South Africa, he took his side to Thomond Park at the end of September and was subjected to a record defeat.

The 64-7 was followed, only six days later, by a home loss to Connacht, the westerners getting their first win in Belfast for 58 years. McFarland was only in the job a little over a month at that stage but, if he has worse weeks in his Ulster tenure, something will have to go seriously awry.

After two such stirring European wins, the feeling around the side could hardly be more different going into the season's second block of derbies.

There will however be a certain degree of a balancing act in the weeks ahead. Player management is always to the fore at this time of year and for all the impact made by the likes of Rory Best and Iain Henderson in recent weeks, the international frontliners will be rested at some stage over the next three games.

This week's hosting of Munster stands the best chance to see a full side, but McFarland dismisses the notion that any game will be targeted.

"We're going to try and win every game, we always do," he said."

"We tried to win that (last Munster) game too. If you really study, the only person rested for that game was Stuart McCloskey.

"Everybody else, it was all hands on deck. Over Christmas there are times when you do have to move people around because of the player management system.

"That's the same for every province. It doesn't matter who is playing, we're trying to win the games."

Belfast Telegraph


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