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Ulster will need time to bounce back from latest trophy disappointment, admits head coach McFarland

 

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Ulster players stand dejected after their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Leicester Tigers (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

Ulster players stand dejected after their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Leicester Tigers (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

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Ulster players stand dejected after their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Leicester Tigers (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has admitted his side will "not recover quickly" from the blow of their second-half disaster in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The northern province had led Leicester by 11 points at half-time in Welford Road but would concede 20 unanswered points after the turn before ultimately falling 33-24.

The loss means the long wait to end a silverware drought that stretches all the way back to 2006 will continue, a bitter pill all the more difficult to swallow for knowing they had one foot in the final before the Tigers were allowed to turn the game on its head.

"We don't move on from this quickly," said the head coach after the third European knock-out defeat of his tenure. "That was a chance to be in a European final. I'd be really disappointed with the situation that we're in.

"We demonstrated in the first-half that when we were able to execute we were by far the better team. Their kicking game was superb throughout the game, ours dropped off, and as a consequence they won the match.

"We're not recovering from that quickly."

With McFarland citing the kicking game as the key aspect of the second-half reversal of fortunes, the contribution of George Ford was writ large across the final 40 minutes.

Challenging Ulster's back-three throughout, he produced two sublime passes to create Tigers' tries while nailing the key sideline conversion that left the visitors in need of two scores at the death.

"He was more influential in the second-half because he was flawless in what he was doing," said McFarland of the English fly-half.

"He was excellent in the second-half. We got caught out in the back-three with some of our positioning and our kicking in return wasn't accurate enough.

"I think it went away from us because we made errors in the kicking game.

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"What worked well for us in the first-half in terms of getting us in good positions didn't work in the third quarter. In fact it did the opposite, it put them into positions to attack and to put us under pressure.

"The fact was we didn't put ourselves in position in that third quarter."

With no European final to look forward to, Ulster instead have only the virtual dead-rubbers of the Rainbow Cup remaining this season.

Having lost first up to Connacht at home, their chances of success in the new tournament are already all but over and McFarland appears ready to heavily rotate for the upcoming trips to Munster and Leinster.

"The competition that we have to play in now is going to be an opportunity for lots of guys to get game time," he added. "That's how I'm going to look at it.

"I want to see some players that haven't had as much game-time as others going towards the end of the season."


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