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Ulster must raise game for Clermont - McFarland


Euro warning: Dan McFarland
Euro warning: Dan McFarland
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has warned his side must show more of an attacking threat when French giants Clermont visit Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

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While delighted to kick off their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a vital 17-16 win over Bath at The Rec on Saturday, the province's victory came courtesy of a resolute defence and a try in either half created from little sustained possession or territory.

Having had similarly scarce ball against Munster in Thomond Park a week prior, McFarland (right) knows his men will need to take greater care against the Top 14 heavyweights coming to town this weekend.

"It is not sustainable," he said of the side's smash and grab scores.

"Bath stuck it to us. They are really physical and we had to match them there. Set-piece wise we did a good job. Defensively we did a good job and we got two tries out of turnover ball which was really pleasing for the lads and for (defence coach) Jared Payne.

McFarland added: “You cannot afford to give up as much possession as we did. For us as a team, I look at the way we attack and the kind of things that we can create when we get fast ball.

“I know what we can do with the ball in hand, we have got to treat it as precious.

“You give Clermont that much ball and they are going to torture us.”

Les Jaunards began their own campaign with a win — in their case a bonus-point 53-21 hammering of Harlequins at the Stade Marcel Michelin — but a seventh straight home win in this competition would, even at this early stage, be a giant step towards Ulster replicating last year’s feat of a quarter-final spot.

“It’s a huge challenge and we all understand that,” McFarland added. “It will be a great occasion.

“Kingspan is a great place to play in Europe against French teams. Our evening last year against Racing 92 was a special occasion.

“The players relish it, the fans relish it and as a coach I remember talking afterwards about having to keep my own emotions in check.

“The reason people love it is because it is such a big challenge, such a big task to beat a star-studded team with such huge players, but it is one that we will tuck into.”

Ulster look likely to be without the services of Wallaby import Sam Carter who injured a shoulder against Bath, while more should be known today about the thumb problem aggravated by Jack McGrath.

Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper bemoaned the lack of accuracy that undermined his side’s efforts. He said: “We let ourselves down.”

But he refused to accept there had been any disruption caused by bringing back three of the England World Cup contingent in Sam Underhill, Jonathan Joseph and Ruaridh McConnochie.

“I wouldn’t put any of it down to that,” he added. “There were collective moments when we had to bring pressure to bear and we didn’t do that with accuracy.”

On Underhill’s performance, he said: “He put his body on the line out there for 80 minutes and he was really committed to doing a great job for us. I thought he was outstanding.”

Hooper added: “You don’t have to win your home matches. You just have to get a certain amount of points, usually 19 or 20.

“Historically, it’s easier to do that at home but we’ve had Bath sides who’ve lost a couple of games and still gone through to the quarters. It’s about accumulating points. We’ve got one now and we go to Quins next weekend to get more.

“Whether it’s English, French or Irish opposition, we treat it as a European game.”

√ Fiji beat the Barbarians 33-31 in a Twickenham thriller on Saturday.

The Baa-Baas were led out by former Ireland captain Rory Best, wearing one Ulster and one Banbridge RFC sock, but fell to defeat despite a brace of scores by World Cup-winning Springbok Makazole Mapimpi.

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