Ulster ready to embrace altitude challenge in South Africa

Dan McFarland is confident that his players will be able to deal with the altitude in Pretoria as Ulster complete their South African mini-tour against the Bulls on Saturday afternoon.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 7:00 am

Ulster have played above sea level twice - both times against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, the first game in September 2018 ending in a 39-39 draw while, a year later, the South African side scored nine tries in a 64-26 win.

“I don’t see it as a difficulty,” said McFarland. “We have played with at altitude with Ulster a couple of times and although the guys feel tired at the end of the game, relative to the opposition, I’ve never looked at us and thought we are more tired than them.

“We have an excellent athletic performance programme, we’re in Pretoria for the whole week, we’ll get a good training session on Tuesday, we’ll get a good training session on Thursday and we’ll have a bit of a run around on Friday.

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Ulster head coach Dan McFarland. Pic by Pacemaker.

“You can’t say at that time you will be acclimatised to playing at altitude, but we will know what to expect.

“Will it be tough? 100 per cent.

“Will we be equipped to tough it out? Absolutely.”

Ulster’s controversial defeat against the Stormers, coupled with Leinster getting a bonus point win over Connacht, has seen Leo Cullen’s side open up a five-point gap over McFarland’s men at the top of the United Rugby Championship table.

Ulster face back-to-back games with Toulouse in the last 16 of the European Champions Cup when they leave South Africa, making a win against the in-form Bulls even more significant.

“We didn’t want to lose two games in row, each game is each game but, arguably, this is a tougher task than the game last week and it is going to be very tough this weekend,” said McFarland.

McFarland wasn’t surprised at the admission by URC head of match officials Tappe Henning over Callum Reid’s late disallowed try against the Stormers, which would have given Ulster victory.

“It wasn’t news to me, it is what it is, just fact...it’s a try, very simply,” said McFarland. “The ball is dislodged out of Callum’s hands, it goes backwards, he lands on it and scores a try.

“It’s not complicated in any shape or form...I put in my report to Tappe and there were a number of instances in the game that were of high import.

“From our perspective, it is just a massive shame that the log for the rest of the season will not be a true reflection on how we have done.

“Given how competitive it is at the top of the table, from my perspective when I take a step back and look at it objectively, that is a big shame.

“From my perspective as head coach and trying to support what we are doing here, I have to put that behind me and refocus on what we have to do this week.

“My job is to put in the referee’s report, my job is to follow up and find out what the consequences are and deal with all that side of things.

“The lads’ job and the coaches and support staff’s job is to refocus and get on with winning what is going to be an even bigger challenge this week.”

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