Clermont challenge excites Dan McFarland

Ulster's Jacob Stockdale celebrates at the final whistle. Credit �INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Ulster's Jacob Stockdale celebrates at the final whistle. Credit �INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
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Ulster head coach Dan McFarland is relishing the challenge of facing French side Clermont Auvergne at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night as the two unbeaten sides in group three go head to head in round two.

The Irish Province sank Bath 17-16 at The Rec on Saturday afternoon with a determined performance, McFarland lauding the narrow victory as a “team effort”.

John Cooney and Robert Lyttle crossed for tries with Cooney also converting both and slotting over a penalty.

Bath, seeking a first win over Ulster in Europe, looked like they may finally break the hoodoo at the fifth time of asking, but a try saving intervention from Jacob Stockdale on Semesa Rokoduguni in added time was to leave them licking their wounds once again.

Having won on the road Ulster will look to back it up with a home success over Clermont in Belfast and take control of the pool ahead of those back-to-back games against Harlequins next month.

Reflecting on the 17-16 success, McFarland said: “Today was about a team effort, whether it is a man of the match or not we dogged that out and nearly tried to beat ourselves at the end, but we dogged it out.”

McFarland added that the importance of an away win at the start of the campaign was massive.

“In a competition where there are six games and five wins does not necessarily ensure you a play-off place, it is pretty crucial,” he said.

“Bath stuck it to us and they are really physical and we had to match them there, set piece wise we did a good job. Defensively we did a good job and sure they have some threats on the bench.

“We got two tries out of turnover ball which was really pleasing from the lads and for Jarred Payne (defence coach).”

However, one area of focus for Ulster going forwards as their lack of time with the ball.

Last week against Munster in the PRO14 they had ball for 13 minutes in the game, on Saturday at The Rec it was something similar.

And with Clermont Auvergne coming to Belfast on Friday night McFarland knows he wants improvement.

“It (having the ball) is not sustainable, that is what is says,” he said.

“You cannot afford to give up that much possession and for us as a team, I look at the way we attack and the kind of things that we can create when we create fast ball and not all of it was pretty today.

“Bath made it really difficult in the collision area. But when you know what you can do with the ball in hand, we have got to treat it as precious.

“But we are not risk averse either, you do end up turning the ball over, but as I say it is not sustainable.

“If we give Clermont that much ball next week, they will torture us!”

However, McFarland is looking forward to the challenge the French side will provide at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

“Having won away today, we need to back it up and it is a huge challenge, and we all understand that,” he said.

“It will be a great occasion. Kingspan/Ravenhill is a great place to play in Europe against French teams. Our evening last year against Racing 92 was a special occasion.

“The players relish that, the fans relish that, as a coach I remember talking about afterwards keeping my emotions in check.

“People love it because it is such a big challenge, such a big task to beat a star-studded team with such huge players, but it is one that we will tuck in to.”