Dan McFarland’s selection test for ‘critical’ Ulster run
Ulster made it two wins out of two in the Heineken Champions Cup with a 27-22 win over Northampton Saints on Friday at Kingspan Stadium - and while a nine-point tally has put Dan McFarland’s side in a strong position to reach the knockout stages, victory came at a potential heavy price.
Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey left the field after just 19 minutes with a hamstring injury while skipper Iain Henderson, only back after missing three games off hamstring problem sustained during the warm-up in the final Autumn international against Argentina, lasted just 48 minutes before being forced from the field with ankle problems.
With an intense five weeks coming up with games against Connacht, Leinster, Munster then the two reverse fixtures in Europe against Northampton and Clermont, McFarland admits he’s going to have to juggle his resources.
“We’ve got three games and we’ve got the IRFU Player Management Programme to work through, so we’ll have to rest a couple of players,” explained Ulster’s head coach McFarland. “It may well be that a couple of those are forced with the injuries that we’ve got because they’re starting to build up.
“We’ve Connacht and Leinster at home, they’re massive games.
“Those guys are going to come stacked, they’ve a bye in round 10, they won’t be playing (Leinster and Connacht both due to play South African opposition).
“Resting of players is already sorted out for them because they’ve not played this weekend and they won’t play in round 10.
“We’ve got some really tough fixtures and we’re playing all our games, we have to be careful with how we select over this period for what are critical matches.”
With the new travel ban in France causing havoc in the European competitions, McFarland was just happy that Ulster have been able to complete two games.
“I think that, first and foremost, we’re really grateful as a club that we’ve been lucky enough to be able to play two games and post two results.
“There are a lot of clubs out there with the uncertainty of not playing and the anguish of having games postponed or awarded to the opposition, that’s a really unfortunate position.
“It could slap us in the face at any point...I know that, it’s probably coming.”
“We’re lucky enough that we’ve got two games done, nine points from two games is a decent place to be but we’re only halfway through the pool stages and we’ll turn our attention to the interpros now before we’re back in Europe.
“It is sad, it was definitely sad last year that those two rounds were discarded.
“There’s so much in life that’s disrupted at the moment, this is the centre of our world but the centre of so many people’s worlds are disrupted on a week-to-week basis.
“It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, we’re subject to decision making from people who have huge amounts of responsibility around public health making complex social decisions.
“We have to go with the flow, we’ve all our opinions and the right to voice those opinions and to influence if we think those opinions are valid but, ultimately, we’ll plough through and, God willing, we’ll all get through safe.”
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