Rugby

Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie: Time was right to let McFarland go

Pacemaker Press 26-02-2024: Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie, pictured discussing this week’s announcement on a change to the coaching set-up for the Senior Men’s squad.  
 
Ulster’s CEO, Jonny Petrie, pictured during a press preview of the upcoming BKT United Rugby Championship Origins Round 11 fixture against Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.
Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie Ulster’s CEO, Jonny Petrie, pictured during a press preview of the upcoming BKT United Rugby Championship Origins Round 11 fixture against Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

After a run of six defeats in nine games including three consecutive defeats in their last three outings which saw Ulster exit the European Champions Cup at the pool stages and slip to eighth in the United Rugby Championship, chief executive Jonny Petrie admitted the Kingspan Stadium were left with no choice but to get rid of head coach Dan McFarland.

Ulster ended McFarland’s six-year tenure last Wednesday with still and year and a half to run on his contract but the last kick of the game defeat against the Ospreys in Swansea was the final straw for the powers that be at Kingspan Stadium.

McFarland had lost 16 of his last 31 games in charge of Ulster.

“We ultimately got to the point with it where we felt we needed to change the head coach over the course of the past couple weeks,” stated Petrie.

“I don’t have a bad word to say about Dan, I’ve had a very good working relationship with him over the whole time he’s been at the club.”

“During that period, we’ve seen a huge amount of progress in where we’ve got to in being at the top end of the URC and consistently in European competition over that period, albeit it’s been frustrating where we haven’t taken that final step into silverware.”

“Just this year we’d seen some consistencies creep in, we had some great stuff against Racing and Leinster on New Year’s Day, but there’s been inconsistency in there and it ultimately got to the point where we, as a club, thought it was the right thing to do to make a change.”



“That’s just the nature of the business sometimes, as unfortunate as it is, but now we’re looking forward to Saturday in the first place and the rest of the season where we know we need to see an improvement in performance and more consistency through to the end of the season.”

“We work closely with the IRFU on everything, that was something we, as a club, felt was the right thing and that we worked with the IRFU on.”

Dan McFarland stepped down as Ulster head coach after six seasons last week

Ulster need to finish in the top eight of the URC to qualify for the European Champions Cup and with two games in South Africa, and clashes with Leinster and Munster among their last eight games Petrie is hoping interim coach Richie Murphy can breathe new life into a static campaign.

“On every front we want to be at the top tier of European rugby, as we have been for all of the past five seasons.”

“We know we have the squad to do this and that will continue to be the case into next year, we just have to get the best out of them.”

“I’m excited, the club’s excited, the players are excited about Richie coming in, he has a great track record with the U20s of getting the best out of a young group of players and that’s certainly something we want to see at Ulster and continue to compete at the top of European competition.”

“We know we have the squad here and we’re putting in performances, albeit inconsistently, that prove we’re able to do that.”

Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy
Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy will take charge of Ulster in a temporary capacity until the end of the season

“We’re focusing on the Dragons this weekend and then going into a trip to South Africa and Montpellier in the Challenge Cup and putting in some good performances and getting good results.”

With finances already strained it will be an important run in for Ulster.

Looking ahead into next season there’s always going to be some natural refreshing of the squad in there that happens at every club.”

“I don’t shy away from the fact that we are operating in a pretty challenging financial environment, the rugby business is tough full stop, cost of living kicks in and we’re not immune to that.”