Ulster target weekend end to the Thomond Park pain game
Ulster are hoping to smash another one of their unwanted records this Saturday as they travel to Munster in the United Rugby Championship.
It has been seven years since Ulster experienced a victory at Thomond Park.
A try from scrum half Michael Heaney and 14 points from the boot of out half James McKinney gave the Belfast side a 19-17 win in Limerick.
Ulster hadn’t won against Leinster in Dublin since 1999 but ended that run with a 20-10 victory at the RDS in November.
Ulster have never beaten French giants Clermont in their own back yard, that was rectified with a 29-23 win at the Stade Marcel-Michelin in the opening European game of the season.
Despite despatching Leinster, Clermont and Northampton in three of their last four games, head coach Dan McFarland knows Thomond Park will prove a huge challenge against a Munster side smarting from their weekend defeat against Connacht.
“We went into this block of games knowing how tough it was going to be, we probably won two of the hardest games on paper that we would have had all season, but this game coming up this weekend is right up there with that,” said McFarland. “Ulster haven’t won in Thomond Park since 2014, Munster have only lost two games this year.
“They’ve had some terrific wins, last weekend they could easily have won that, they had a period of pressure just before half-time where really that deserved a score and could have changed the complexion on the game.
“I thought their win over in Scarlets was exceptional and then that Wasps game, they played a lovely brand of rugby in that, it was exciting.
“This is a big test, I suspect they’ll have a couple of their big guns back and they’ll be hurting from the loss.”
Connacht edged Munster by two points at the Sportsground on New Year’s Day.
“They did a really good job in pressuring Munster in terms of territory, and they held possession for a lot of that game,” said McFarland. “It’s not rocket science but they are two core areas of the statistical measurement of the game that if you can control that then you’re going to do a pretty good job.
“There are ways and means of doing it. We would do it a little bit differently to Connacht, but that’s where a lot of our effort will be put.”
McFarland feels Sean Reffell, a new signing from Saracens who will arrive in Belfast at the start of next season, can bring a new dimension to an already over-stacked Ulster backrow.
“We have some really good back-rows, Sean has a point of difference, he’s an excellent all-round player, defensively he excels,” he said. “He’s an excellent tackler, he has a tremendous work-rate, he’s a really good jackaller over the ball.
“He’s what you would describe as a real fetcher as a No 7, I’ve watched a lot of his games and talked to a lot of people about the kind of player he is, the kind of person he is.
“And being able to get somebody with that much potential, he’s obviously played a chunk of games for Saracens already, but he’s still a young player and he’s still got a lot to develop.
“That’s very exciting considering he’s Irish-qualified.”
Following the announcement of the Reffell deal, McFarland said last week: “We are looking forward to welcoming Sean to the province next summer.
“With an already impressive track-record for Saracens he will be a great fit alongside some real quality in our back row.
“And I am confident he will be a valuable addition to our squad.”
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