Rugby

McFarland laments poor European campaign as Ulster limp out after defeat to Harlequins

Harlequins' Danny Care runs through to score their side's fourth try of the game during the Investec Champions Cup match at Twickenham Stoop, London. Picture date: Saturday January 20, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story RUGBYU Harlequins. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.
Harlequins v Ulster Rugby - Investec Champions Cup - Twickenham Stoop Harlequins' Danny Care runs through to score their side's fourth try of the game during the Investec Champions Cup match at Twickenham Stoop, London. Picture date: Saturday January 20, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story RUGBYU Harlequins. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder. (Adam Davy/Adam Davy/PA Wire)

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland admitted that although they faced a tough group in the Investec Champions Cup, their failure to reach the knockout stage was entirely down to their own performances.

Harlequins produced the ultimate smash-and-grab victory to register a 47-19 win over Ulster at the Stoop on Saturday to condemn McFarland’s men to the Challenge Cup.

Louis Lynagh claimed two of four tries scored against the run of play, his first a sensational solo score that started on his own 22 and left four beaten tacklers in his wake.

By the time Nick David, Andre Esterhuizen and Will Evans ran in additional tries, the Irish province were a spent force knowing the win they needed to progress was out of reach.

It looked an unlikely outcome as Ulster took early control of the game only to allow David to touch down from a quickly-taken line-out by Esterhuizen, who capitalised the visitors’ loss of concentration.

Ulster launched consecutive raids originating inside their own half with one producing a try for David McCann made possible by the athleticism of wing Rob Baloucoune.

The Irish onslaught continued and the only surprise was the score remained 7-7, but disaster struck a second time for them when Smith launched Lynagh from his own 22 and the England prospect went on to score a stunning try.

Ireland internationals Stuart McCloskey and Jacob Stockdale ran in second half tries, but that was after the damage had been done, leaving the head coach to lament an indifferent European campaign.

“We’re pretty gutted about that. We had high expectations of ourselves coming into this group but we haven’t performed and we’ve got to live with that,” McFarland said.

“We’ve been beaten by some good teams in a tough group, but we’ll also look at our own performance and that’s been the most disappointing thing.”

Harlequins boss Billy Millard, meanwhile, said the he wold toast Louis Lynagh’s stunning solo try against Ulster over a glass of wine as he waits to see if his side have clinched home advantage in the Investec Champions Cup knockout phase.

The 23-year-old England prospect, and son of Australian great Michael, was initially overlooked for selection on form grounds but when injury forced a reshuffle to the bench just hours before kick-off and then Oscar Beard failed a 17th-minute HIA, his chance came.

“Louis has been around us a long time so he knows exactly what the deal is. He’s worked really hard and deserves it. He gave us a real foothold into the game,” director of rugby Billy Millard said.

“Louis is outstanding and he showed that – I will sit back and watch his try over a glass of red. It was just that determination to stay in it. He’s a big part of it here and we’ve got a really strong back three.”

Ulster Rugby head coach Dan McFarland
Ulster Rugby head coach Dan McFarland

Quins amassed seven tries with Nick David also crossing twice and whether they play at The Stoop in the round of 16 hinges on Bath’s visit to Toulouse on Sunday.

A resounding victory in their final group match has placed them in a strong position and Millard was also impressed by Danny Care, the 37-year-old scrum-half who ran in one try and was a thorn in Ulster’s side throughout.

“Danny is a smart player. He’s pretty canny and showed that on the intercept. He didn’t have the legs to go far, but he was outstanding,” said Millard, who confirmed that Quins are in talks to extend Care’s contract by another season.

“He’s such a smart player and what people possibly don’t see is that he’s as tough as nails. He throws himself around.

“We don’t really have to look after him in the week. He does everything, he’s fresh and happy and playing really well.

“We try to look after him and the medics know him well. He just looks after himself and always plays well for us.

“I hope he has another season here. There are discussions taking place. He’s our furniture, isn’t he? He’s got more in him.”