Dan McFarland feels Ulster players must both ‘support’ and ‘challenge’

After over a quarter of a century in professional rugby, Ulster coach Dan McFarland has seen incredible highs and remarkable lows.
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The pressure was cranked up on McFarland, his coaches and players with a shock defeat in Benetton at the weekend.

Ulster have lost five of their last six games, dropped to fourth in the United Rugby Championship and now face the daunting task of having to win at holders La Rochelle to keep alive any hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions Cup.

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“I’ve been involved in professional rugby since the day it started in 1995, I played in teams and won a lot of games and played in teams when we lost a lot of games,” said McFarland. “So you learn that that is part of the job.

Ulster head coach Dan McFarlandUlster head coach Dan McFarland
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

"You see times when you are on a nice trajectory, when there are times when you seem to be on fire when players are on top form at that point.”

“And there are times, like now, when there are some variables that lead you to get a little bit knocked down and there’s a little bit of momentum in the other direction and you have to build out of it.

“I am not going to say it is water off a duck’s back because I want to win.

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"I love winning but that isn’t the reason I live, the reason I live is because I love my job and it is a challenging job, I come in on a Monday and I am invigorated.

“In professional sport, with the dips and troughs, you are never far away from doing what you are doing well.

“If you always done it badly, then you need to focus on the things you can improve but if you know you have done it well, it’s making sure you believe in what you do, focusing on it and sticking to it.

“We ask what we stand for, in a cultural sense, then we look at the rugby and we might tweak a few things on the rugby side of it because we have taken out eye off the ball on this.

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“But, culturally, it is the same thing, it’s important we support each other and challenge each other in these times, that would be my big thing.”

Ulster are overwhelming underdogs travelling to the home of the European champions.

“I wouldn’t call it a free hit,” said McFarland. “La Rochelle offer so many threats, they are up among the top three teams in Europe, they caused us plenty of problems when we played them in the Aviva.

“We are playing a team with huge size, they also have a lot of exciting and experienced players who know how to manage a game and who can batter you with the size of their players.

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“So it is a brilliant challenge but the guys who are selected this week to play the game, why wouldn’t they relish that?”

“What a great opportunity, that’s the way we approach it and take it for the 80 minutes and the experience of the day itself, it’s only in doing that, that we can give of our best.”

Ulster will fly to France without winger Rob Baloucoune (hamstring) and flanker Sean Reffell (ankle) - both injured in Treviso – and it was confirmed that prop Marty Moore has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and he will see a knee surgeon this week.

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