Feelgood factor slowly returning to Ulster as win over Stormers puts new shine on season
United Rugby Championship: Ulster 35 DHL Stormers 5
THE feel good factor that has been missing of late seems to have returned at the perfect time for Ulster.
On Friday night at the Kingspan Stadium Dan McFarland’s side put second placed and current URC champions, the DHL Stormers, to the sword with thirty points to spare.
Feeding off the momentum of last week’s do-or-die European win over Sale, Ulster faced a similar scenario as defeat to the South African franchise would’ve all but ended any hopes of a second-place finish.
Reward for the second placed rank side is a home quarter and semi-final. So, it was imperative that Ulster could do all they could to eat into the seven-point gap that separated the sides prior to kick-off.
From the early stages it was clear that Ulster were back in the mood as they aimed to put behind them a rotten run of results that saw them slip from second to fourth.
Michael Lowry and James Hume were a constant threat with ball in hand as both aim for a return to the Irish squad while Duane Vermuelen was a constant nuisance at the breakdown against his fellow countrymen.
After going close early on, tries from Nathan Doak, Nick Timoney and Ben Moxham helped Ulster to a 21-0 lead at the break before Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Lowry completed the Ulster scoring before a late consolation from Stormers replacement Andre-Hugo Venter in the final minutes.
While Ulster appear to be rediscovering their mojo in attack, head coach McFarland was keen to praise his sides defensive effort that kept the Stormers at bay until the 78th minute.
“We defended very well tonight”, said McFarland.
“Our defence has been bubbling pretty nicely for the last few weeks and you the guys really stepped up.
“You know it was tough at times tonight against those guys. There was a period of thirty minutes when we didn’t defend very well, but man they were running hard.
“They ran hard in the second half. They aren’t a championship winning team for nothing. They’ve got big men, very physical, but we stood up well and we had to defend for a chunk at the end of that game. So, it was a testament to the guys that they held out for as long as they did.
“In terms of attack we put some really nice passages of play together. Some good starter moves were executed really well and some good phase play. So, I was really pleased with that,” continued the head coach.
Ulster will now head into a short break for the Six Nations in high spirits. Sitting third in the URC rankings and with a mouth-watering Champions Cup clash with Leinster on the horizon, Ulster have somehow managed to salvage their season when just a few weeks ago it looked to be spiralling out of control.
With the mid-season ten game block of fixtures now complete, the Ulster players and management can look forward to a short break in high spirits.
"We're really pleased to finish off what was a really difficult block,” McFarland said.
"The guys are going to go on a little bit of a break, freshen up, and come back in and look forward to a week of training followed by three away games in a row which will be really tough.”
When Ulster do return from their short sabbatical, they must face up to three daunting away fixtures in succession, starting with a trip to fifth placed Glasgow Warriors, followed by a trip to South Africa to face Sharks before finishing off a difficult period against Cardiff.
"We'll need to be reinvigorated to go into those,” said McFarland