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Ulster look to Harlequins tie following win over Scarlets

Robert Baloucoune goes over for an Ulster try at Kingspan
Robert Baloucoune goes over for an Ulster try at Kingspan

By Michael Sadlier

The emphasis had already switched to this week, even though Ulster had simply torched their Welsh visitors in last Friday evening's opening half hour.

This five-try PRO14 victory felt already parked and not because Ulster had failed to score any points until the end of the game after running up an unassailable 24-0 lead in that devastating first 30 minutes.

Europe was clearly back in the frame, thanks to the first of the back-to-back meetings with Harlequins, beginning at the Kingspan on Saturday afternoon.

The Ulster head coach was, understandably, already in Champions Cup mode after the solitary PRO14 game, sandwiched between four weekends of European action, had been dealt with.

"We've won the first two games in Europe and people are saying, 'You're doing well', but for me, we need to be performing better if we're to push on," he said.

"We've got a big one this week.

"Harlequins will offer big propositions for us in terms of breaking down their defence, which is excellent, and they have one of the best defensive coaches around in Paul Gustard.

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"Breaking them down is going to be really difficult.

"We don't want to be patting ourselves on the back. We'll enjoy the fact we won (against the Scarlets) and also we'll focus on the fact that there was some good stuff in there, which we'll look at and see if we can pull some best practice out of that," stated Dan McFarland.

As for the lack of points in the second half, it ended up being a pretty turgid 5-5 draw, it was clear that McFarland was less than pleased about that.

"We need to be better," was his response.

"When you're in a position like that (24-0 up), it's more difficult to keep the mental intensity.

"But for me, you have to. When someone is down, you have to keep them down.

"We had a bonus point already and it didn't look like we were going to lose that game.

"Would we have done that (lose momentum and intensity) if it had been 24-20 and made those mistakes?

"I don't reckon we would have done. That's really annoying," he added.

If we didn't already know it, McFarland is clearly a hard taskmaster, but then he has to be as consistency of performance is the basic requirement for progressing in the Champions Cup.

If Ulster want to keep themselves as pace-setters in Europe's Pool Three then a flurry of admirable activity before a fall-off just won't suffice.

As McFarland explained: "Ultimately, we've got five points out of it (the Scarlets) and there's not much more that you can do.

"But, for me, when I'm watching, I like to look at the performance in the moment, so if it's slips off … I find that very frustrating."

Despite all that, he was rightly pleased with the way his side went about their business from the off.

Giving the ball width and changing the emphasis, with occasional dinks over the top, as Stuart McCloskey showed for the game's and Faddes' first, showed us Ulster playing with an ambition, accuracy and tempo in the wide areas, which has been somewhat lacking in recent matches.

In-form John Cooney bagged Ulster's second, his third try in as many games prior to getting a bit ragged during his time on the field in the second half, and when Mattie Rea was driven over from the familiar driving maul, it looked as if Ulster could run up a huge score.

Seventeen-nil became 24-0 when Baloucoune claimed the bonus try and, with just under half an hour gone, anything seemed possible, even though that's how it stood at half-time.

But as was the case with the win over the Kings, a game clearly won early can be a difficult enough task when it comes to piling on more points.

Only when the Scarlets had finally broken their duck, in the 75th minute, did Ulster rediscover their mojo and Faddes stretched over the line for his second to end the game.

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