Rugby Union

Dan McFarland: Ulster biggest challenge will be taming Leicester Tigers

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland (centre) oversees the pre-match warm up prior to the beginning of the Guinness PRO14 semi-final at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh on Saturday September 5, 2020. Picture by Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
John Flack

ULSTER head coach Dan McFarland believes his side will face their biggest task yet this season when they travel to Welford Road for their Challenge Cup semi-final against Leicester Tigers on Friday night.

The province are just one game away from their first European final since 2012, with the impressive English side standing between them and a place in next month's decider against either Bath or Montpellier, who meet in the other semi-final on Saturday.

Ulster have done it the hard way so far, winning away at both Harlequins and Northampton Saints in the previous two rounds, and will have to win twice more on the road to claim their first silverware in 15 years.

On top of that, they will also have to park last week's bitterly disappointing Rainbow Cup defeat to Connacht, which saw them lose with the final play of the game at Kingspan Stadium, but McFarland insists they can put that behind them and refocus quickly.

"It's professional sport, we move on. It's not only another match, it's a different competition. Perspective is everything. We lost a game of rugby and we're disappointed with the way that we played," explained the head coach.

"You can't take anything from Connacht's intent, they came here with intent and they played really well. We need to get a handle on what we didn't do well, accept that it's happened and we can't do anything about it now and look to this weekend. That's a whole different game.

"The comparison is good because that Connacht team went over and struggled physically against Leicester. And now we've to go to Leicester. We know what challenge we have.

"We have seven days between the games and we need to get straight into that. It is a quick look and not wallowing in our own self pity. That is in the past now, it's done and dusted and we are in a European semi-final."

Ulster will also travel with confidence after Leicester were beaten at Welford Road at the weekend by a team that the province have already overcome themselves this season - Northampton.

However, McFarland didn't see that as being evidence that his side will enter their last-four tie as favourites, insisting that the Tigers will prove a more stubborn opposition on Friday night because of the way they approach games compared to the Saints.

"It would be a mistake to think because Leicester sit below Northampton, or because Northampton beat them at the weekend, that this is going to be an easier challenge. I don't see it like that at all," claimed McFarland.

"I actually think it will be a more difficult game for us, more difficult opposition, and that is not to say Northampton aren't a quality side because they are, and they demonstrated at the weekend that they are.

"The way that they play is very dangerous, but Northampton will offer you more opportunities for you to play your own way. Leicester, unless you are able to do certain things in the game, they can make you struggle.

"You have to be able to deal with their set piece, you have to be able to deal with their aerial kicking game and their hard runners. These are three aspects of rugby that are critical and if you don't deal with any one of those, it doesn't matter how you play, you will be in trouble."

Ulster have confirmed that loosehead prop Jack McGrath will miss an extended spell after undergoing hip surgery last week, however there's a clean bill of health for those who featured against Connacht.

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