Ulster progress is pleasing for Dan McFarland

After exiting the Heineken Champions Cup after two group games last season Ulster head coach Dan McFarland feels it’s progress the side have qualified for this season’s knock out stages with three wins out of three games and with a match to spare.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Monday, 17th January 2022, 6:00 am

Ulster booked their place in the last 16 with a bonus point 24-20 win at against Northampton Saints at Franklin Gardens.

And the Ulster coach is delighted with the grit shown by his squad in progressing to the knockout stages.

“It probably is (progress),” said McFarland.

Ulster’s James Hume battles for possession with Dan Bigger of Northampton Saints during the Heineken Champions Cup match. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“Over the last two years we have struggled with what you would describe as the senior players that you would expect to play in the Champions Cup games being injured and we had a number of those guys not playing against Saints.

“We had that last year again as well against Gloucester and Toulouse, we had a massive chuck of senior players missing for those games and we were so close.

“That game against Toulouse at home I thought we were fabulous against opposition who were superb in the competition.

“This year we have demonstrated the same grit and have still had a big chuck of guys missing but the bottom line is the guys that are stepping up are doing a superb job.

“There is a fight in the squad to write your name on the top of that depth chart and with every game that goes by it is more difficult to work out what our depth chart looks like.

“Credit to them that this is a long haul, it doesn’t happen short-term, it happens week in, week out.

“You just don’t turn up and let that happen, you have got to put the work in to get there.

“The two teams that we’ve been matched up against are quality teams.

“Northampton took this tournament seriously and have some of the best attacking firepower you will see on a week-to-week basis.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge of playing Northampton. Winning away from home in Europe, unless you get one of the French teams who give up, it’s really, really difficult.

“I’m very proud of the effort and the skill from us.”

McFarland isn’t looking ahead to the last 16 as Ulster face Clermont at Kingspan on Saturday evening, and although already qualified Ulster will want to win to make sure their have the highest possible ranking which theoretically should give them an easier knockout route.

The top ranked side in Ulster’s pool will play eighth best side in the other pool, second with play seventh and so on.

McFarland’s side are currently second in Pool A going into the final round of matches.

“We are not looking any further than the Clermont game and the reason for that is you have to look where your feet are or otherwise you are going to trip up,” said the Ulster coach.

“We have a duty of care around that game.

“Is it going to be difficult because we have qualified?

“There is not going to be the desperation motivation but there is going to be the desire to beat Clermont and play well on home soil.

“The biggest thing is you want to keep winning, with the seeding you just don’t know what is going to turn up on the other side of the draw.

“Some teams are getting five points from not playing, some teams are getting two points from not playing so you don’t know how the seeding on the other side of the draw is going to end up.

“We just have to keep focusing on what we are doing and try to win games.”