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Ulster still crave title joy despite prolonged break, insists head coach Dan McFarland

 

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Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland

Dan McFarland has insisted that Ulster's hunger to hunt down silverware will not have been diminished by the Covid-19 disruption.

After a six-month lay-off, Ulster are due to play again at the end of August and the head coach wants his squad to be in good shape to challenge for trophies as last season's PRO14 and European Champions Cup are due to be first up for completion.

"Our focus for these games is winning," said McFarland. "We're in it to win and we want to win championships. As difficult as that is, that is our goal and it will be every year.

"We've been starved of competition and the ability to test ourselves against opponents, as well as the highs and lows of winning and losing."

Ulster's last game was in February when they hosted the Toyota Cheetahs and their return to playing will open up with two weekends of interprovincial derbies at the Aviva Stadium towards the end of next month before the PRO14 moves to the knockout stages.

They are then due in France to take on Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-final on September 20.

Ulster last made a trophy their own back in 2006 when they claimed the then Celtic League.

Building towards playing again has, obviously, not been straightforward with new rules and regulations regarding training.

“Training has changed a lot,” admitted Ulster coach McFarland, while also stating that a return to contact is on the schedule for next week.

“It’s based around a graduated return to training, so a graduation in the size of the groups training and also in the activities we do.

“Combining training with our understanding of all the protocols to keep people safe is difficult.

“We’re doing it in an environment we haven’t been in before and preparing an elite team to play in a competition is another test.

“It’s unknown territory for professional players not to be training for this length of time in the rugby environment. We have to be very careful with that and learn as we go.

“In terms of a return to contact, that will start next week on a gradual basis.

“The first week there will be a little more contact, and then the following week tackling, rucking and a certain degree of lineout work will be introduced.

“After that, we’ll move into scrums and mauls.”

While there have been no known health issues for the squad regarding the coronavirus, new signing Alby Mathewson was forced to self-isolate after arriving in Ulster but he, and other arrival Ian Madigan, are fully integrated at Kingspan Stadium.

Belfast Telegraph