Ulster: Winning at home is not a given right - head coach Dan McFarland urges caution

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

Airing on the side of caution as Ulster prepare to meet Scarlets at home on Friday night in the European Champions Cup was not quite unexpected at Monday’s pre-match media briefing in Belfast.

Ulster may have produced their best performance of the season to date in winning 25-24 away against Scarlets in the first leg of the back-to-back Pool matches.

And while they will go into Friday night’s return pool four match as favourites, as compared to underdogs last time out, head coach Dan McFarland was advising some caution.

Ulster were one of five teams to win on the road last weekend as the third round of games were played in the Heineken Cup.

McFarland said: “The backs-to-backs themselves in the Heineken Champions Cup are an interesting dynamic, and when you win away from home in round three, there are a number of things we have to be careful off.

“First thing is that we have to understand that a great fan base and a great stadium, does not win a rugby game for you.

“Then the second thing is the understanding that Scarlets are a really good side, and they will be hurting after losing at home and they will be expecting to come and be dangerous and prepare accordingly.

“It was interesting there were five away victories last weekend, so winning at home is not a given right.”

The focus is solely on Friday night’s encounter.

Asked to look ahead to the Pool and potentially going head-to-head with Racing 92 (currently five points ahead of Ulster at the top of the group) or wanting Leicester Tigers to take the French side’s scalp at home this weekend and make it a three-way race, McFarland refused to be drawn.

“We have a big hurdle ahead of us there and I’m not going to think of that at all until we’ve come here and played this fixture,” he said.

“The only thing we talked about is that we want to be totally focussed on the game on Friday.”

McFarland has experienced big turnarounds in the middle set of fixtures himself in the past so his careful approach is understandable.

“When I was at Connacht, we beat Toulouse in what was an unbelievable match, probably the least predicted away match in the history of the competition.

“We were beaten by 30 points at home!

“One of the things I looked at in the list of the teams that won away (last weekend), a good chunk of those are teams that came back to stadiums and support where they feel they have a fortress.

“We certainly do that and there may be a little bit of complacency in those teams.

“We’re out to win this week and that is the big thing.

“We have to be aware of what it takes to win. You don’t win away from home against the Scarlets just by chance.

“You win because you prepare well, you are mentally ready and you take the task to the opposition.

“We have to do the same at home,” he added.

Ulster will be again without second row Alan O’Connor, but recent signing Ian Nagle has been registered to play in Europe, although he still have to overcome a minor injury in the build-up to this Friday’s game.

Sean Reidy, who went off with a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) in the first half, will follow the return to play protocols.

“If he passed those, obviously he will be available for selection,” added McFarland.