Dan McFarland relishing shot at Ulster home reward

Ulster must beat the Sharks at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night to secure a home quarter-final in the United Rugby Championship.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 7:00 am

Dan McFarland’s side are fifth in the table - a point and two places behind their South African opponents.

Ulster are already guaranteed a last-eight knockout game but where it is to be played is unlikely to be decided until the final game of the weekend has finished.

However, after missing out on the domestic play-offs last season, McFarland is happy to be in the quarter-finals.

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland. Pic by Getty.

“Our long-term goal is to compete for championships and that means playing at the thick end of the season in play-off games, so it is very important,” said McFarland. “It doesn’t get any easier.

“This year our play-off games were against Toulouse, obviously a top-quality side and this year the URC is more competitive than ever.

“That is where we want to be...we want to be playing knockout games and in some sense this game has a play-off-type of feel to it with a home venue as a prize.

“Stadiums don’t win you anything.

“But you would much rather be playing at home than you would be travelling, so it is great to be playing in these types of games at the end of the season.

“We’ve both (Ulster and the Sharks) qualified for the quarter-finals, we’ve both qualified for Europe.

“But the prize is a home quarter-final and that’s what we’re fighting for.

“That has a huge impact for both teams...for us, it’s about wanting to be able to play at home in front of our fans.

“It makes it a very important game and one that we’re hugely looking forward to.”

Former Leinster academy coach Noel McNamara is part of the Sharks backroom staff.

He coached Ireland U20s to a grand slam in 2019 with a side that included current Ulster players Callum Reid and David McCann.

McFarland is looking forward to pitting his wits against the backs coach.

“I know Noel, he has been very successful and is an excellent coach and you can see that by the way the Sharks play,” said McFarland. “I have a lot of respect for Noel has done, we’ve had a bit chit chat.

“Noel loves his CPD and learning and we have come across each other through that.”

There will be plenty of interesting personal tussles on the pitch but the game could be decided at the battle of the breakdown by two South African World Cup winners - Ulster’s Duane Vermeulen and the Sharks’ Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.

“Both are fabulous players, both World Cup winners,” said McFarland. “And it is great that our home stadium here has a chance to host players of that quality.

“Siya Kolisi is not the only star in the Sharks team, they have got a number of World Cup winners in their squad and they will bring some stardust to Kingspan Stadium on Friday...just like we will have on the pitch.”

Ulster’s international duo of Iain Henderson and Stuart McCloskey, who both had to leave the pitch before 10 minutes had elapsed in the last game against Edinburgh, are doubtful for Friday night.