Dan McFarland hails ‘biggest win’ as Ulster seal landmark win over Leinster

Dan McFarland hailed Saturday night’s victory over four-time European Champions Leinster at the RDS in the United Rugby Championship as his biggest win since he became head coach at Kingspan Stadium in 2018.

Sunday, 28th November 2021, 12:04 pm
Updated Sunday, 28th November 2021, 12:46 pm

It was Ulster’s first win against the defending domestic league champions in their own back yard since 2013 and only their second win in Dublin against their Irish rivals in 22 years.

Ulster thoroughly deserved the victory and had they been able to turn their territorial and possession dominance into points during the first half, the winning margin could have been greater.

“It’s pretty big, there are not many teams that come to Dublin and win, it’s the biggest,” enthused McFarland.

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DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 27: Craig Gilroy of Ulster is tackled by Harry Byrne of Leinster during the match between Leinster v Ulster at RDS Arena on November 27, 2021 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

“It’s always really difficult when you go to the RDS and play Leinster, and that’s in the most part due to the quality of their team. I am really proud to be a part of the lads’ achievement.”

The win puts Ulster level with Leinster at the top of the table.

Ulster only had Greg Jones’ converted try to show for their efforts in the first 40 minutes, the 7-0 interval lead was extended with a John Cooney penalty seven minutes after the restart.

Leinster rallied with a Robbie Henshaw try which Harry Byrne converted and the out-half added a penalty to tie the scores with 16 minutes remaining.

Nathan Doak’s penalty and James Hume’s intercept try sealed a memorable win for Ulster and McFarland praised the resilience of the team in the second half.

“In times gone by the game is starting to drift away from us in that third quarter as Leinster have got on top, but in this game it didn’t, that third quarter - wow, that’s always tough here.

“We had a couple of things that we needed to sort out at half-time and to be fair the things we talked about sorting out, we did, around our defensive stuff, not dipping into rucks and trying to fill the field.

“We made errors at the start of that second half and it was only through a couple of jackals and big defensive plays that we got ourselves out of trouble.

“We were gritty, we were tough, we fought back and found the mental resilience when they scored that try to be able to fight back from 10 all.”

McFarland admitted the performance at the RDS was fuelled by Ulster’s no-show in the 36-11 defeat by Connacht before the international break.

“Physically we did not play to the level we needed (against Connacht), there was a complete general consensus that that was the case and four weeks is a long time to be sitting and thinking that you did not earn the respect you needed.

“There was definitely an element of that adding a spark to the fire, it was a catalyst for our motivation coming into this game. It was probably only one spark among many.

“Playing Leinster in Dublin is the ultimate test in our league, it is as simple as that. If you can’t set your fire for that then what can you set your fire for?”

“We knew what we had to do and it is a huge ask, and to be fair to the lads and the preparation they put in during the week, I thought they did a magnificent job.”

Leinster: J O’Brien, A Byrne, R Henshaw, C Frawley, J Larmour, R Byrne, L McGrath (capt), E Byrne, J Tracy, T Furlong, R Molony, D Toner, D Leavy, S Penny, R Ruddock.

Replacements: S Cronin for Tracy 51 mins, P Dooley for E Byrne 51 mins, V Abdaladze for Furlong 68 mins, M Deegan for Leavy 21 mins, W Connors for Ruddock 59 mins, N McCarthy for McGrath 65 mins, H Byrne for R Byrne 65 mins, T O’Brien for Larmour 70 mins,

Ulster: M Lowry, C Gilroy, J Hume, S McCloskey, E McIlroy, B Burns, J Cooney, A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor (capt), S Carter, G Jones, N Timoney, D McCann.

Replacements: T Stewart, E O’Sullivan for Warwick 45 mins, R Kane for Moore 70 mins, M Kearney for Carter 46 mins, Marcus Rea for Jones 21 mins, N Doak for Cooney 59 mins, A Curtis, R Lyttle for Lowry 51 mins.

Ref: F Murphy (IRFU).