Ulster’s Dan McFarland expecting Harlequins to provide full-force challenge
Dan McFarland expects Harlequins to be fully loaded for the last 16 European Challenge Cup match with Ulster at The Stoop on Sunday night.
Quins are one of the in-form teams in the English Premiership, sitting fourth in the table after an impressive run across March.
The Londoners beat Northampton Saints with a bonus point, with former Ulster out-half Brett Herron grabbing Quins’ fourth try.
That was followed by a one-point defeat at European champions Exeter before a nine-try demolition of Gloucester.
Last weekend, Quins lost away to leaders Bristol, conceding an injury-time try.
Full back Mike Brown played every minute of those four games, out-half Callum Smith has played all but 17 minutes in March, scrum half Danny Care has only missed 23 minutes in the last four games and prop Joe Marler played full matches at Exeter and Bristol.
Despite their heavy work schedule, McFarland feels Quins, who have won the Challenge Cup on three occasions and been runners-up, once will field their strongest team.
“I would think so, I’d expect so, they’ve a lot of good players, they’ve a lot of size in that forward pack,” said McFarland. “They’ve got good players across the board but you don’t have to look much further than their half-backs, the experience of Danny Care, the undoubted talent of Marcus Smith.
“Mike Brown is now 35 but, as far as I can see having watched the games that they’ve played this season, he’s in the form of his life.
“Up front, the likes of Alex Dombrandt and James Chisholm are big ball carriers and then the experience they’ve got in the front-row with Scott Baldwin, Joe Marler and Wilco Louw.
“Second-row is probably unheralded but they get through a lot of work.
“They’ve got good size, good set-piece, they win a lot of line-out ball.
“Will Evans wins double the amount of jackal turnovers that any other player in the Premiership does, which is some feat to be standing that far ahead of everyone else.
“In the backs they may not be star names but a player like Andre Esterhuizen at 12 is a real force.
“We’ve a juggernaut at 12 (Stuart McCloskey) of our own but so do they.
“There’s real threats across their team and I’d expect to be seeing them all.”
Former Ireland Grand Slam-winning hooker Jerry Flannery is part of Quins’ backroom staff with the Munster man responsible for the lineout and defence.
Flannery and McFarland crossed paths when they were both playing at Connacht at the turn of the century.
“Their set-piece has been excellent in the Premiership, Jerry does a brilliant job over there, their line-out has been exceptional, worked really well, their maul defence has been really good as well,” added the Ulster coach. “I know Jerry well, I played with him at Connacht and he’d be a good friend of mine.
“I’ve always respected him as a coach who is really hungry to learn.
“He knows his own mind and I admire that about him.”
“Adam Jones is a fantastic scrum coach, too, they have a really destructive scrum It’ll be a big ask for us.”
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