McFarland calls on Ulster players to get their heads up after defeat to Leinster

Rob Herring of Ulster dives over to score his side's first try despite the tackle of Ross Byrne of Leinster during the United Rugby Championship match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Herring came on as a replacement for the injured Tom Stewart and helped his side to open up a 21-3 lead before Leinster came storming back in the second half Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Paul McIntyre

United Rugby Championship: Leinster 38 Ulster 29

FOURTEEN-man Leinster turned on the style in the second half to see off Ulster at the RDS on Saturday night.

After Cian Healy’s dismissal in the 21st minute, Ulster raced into a 21-3 lead and for the first time this season Leo Cullen’s side were staring defeat in the face.

But a five-try salvo in the second half turned the tie on its head and kept their 100 per cent record intact.

A try on the stroke of half time from the returning Ronan Kelleher changed the dynamic of the half time team talk. Ross Byrne, who had a perfect evening from the tee, landed the conversion and although they went in the changing rooms at the break still chasing down a twelve-point gap, the momentum had taken a major swing towards the home side.

It was a pivotal moment in the game and one which Ulster head coach Dan McFarland acknowledged afterwards.

“We obviously gave the try away at the end of the first half which gave them a little bit of momentum, then we made some errors in the middle of the park which gave them field position and a little bit momentum which they were able to capitalise on,” said a dejected McFarland.

With the game delicately poised at 3-3, Healy’s high tackle on Ulster’s Tom Stewart saw the Irish international’s evening come to a premature end. It also signalled the end of Stewart’s involvement as the he was forced off due to a bad cut above his right eye.

Ulster immediately made full use of their numerical advantage when Stewart’s replacement Rob Herring touched down after breaking away from a maul.

Seven minutes later more forward power brought a try from Kieran Treadwell before Ethan McIlroy was on hand to finish off a sweeping move that began in their own 22.

All three efforts were converted by John Cooney and Ulster with an extra man were looking more than comfortable with an eighteen-point lead.

Leinster’s first half offering was somewhat disjointed and well below their usual high standards. But helped by that timely boost on the stroke of half time, they appeared for the second half an entirely different animal.

Captain for the night Gary Ringrose showed his class by scoring two near identical tries in the 59th and 63rd minutes respectively.

But another momentum swinger were the yellow cards brandished to Ulster pair James Hume and Nick Timoney during that same spell.

Hume for a high tackle on Ringrose while Timoney was sent to the sin bin for deliberately bringing down a Leinster maul that was advancing into Ulster territory with tremendous speed and power.

“We were definitely on the back foot in that third quarter and we probably fuelled their confidence with that try just before half time which the field position there was avoidable.

“And then the field position we gave them in the second half was probably avoidable as well.

“Momentum is a funny thing in rugby. Especially when you’re playing in a place that’s as difficult to win as it is here,” continued McFarland.

The repercussions to a defeat of this nature could take sometime to come to terms with, but McFarland is hoping that with the focus switching to the Champions Cup, this loss will be swiftly put to bed.

“That’s gonna knock us and we are going to have to get our heads down, review and refocus. But there’s nothing like a European game away from home to refocus the mind.”

A late Sam Carter try meant Ulster did leave with one-point but it wasn’t enough to stop them slipping to fourth place in the URC rankings.