McFarland hails Ulster patience as they grind down Zebre's resistance
United Rugby Championship: Zebre 3 Ulster 36
Ulster made it two wins from two in the United Rugby Championship after they saw off a spirited challenge from Zebre on Saturday evening.
Dan McFarland’s outfit ran in six tries over the eighty minutes but his side had to be patient before they broke the stubborn resistance of their hosts.
Ethan McIlroy’s second try of the game after 39 minutes gave the visitors some breathing space at the break to open up a seven-point gap, while Will Addison’s try on 47 minutes proved to be the catalyst for Ulster to drive home their superiority and put the game beyond the reach of the Italians.
“I’m really pleased with the result” a delighted McFarland said after the game.
Zebre never gave the Ulstermen an inch for much of the opening in what was a troubled week for the Italian side after the tragic passing of Leonardo Mussini, their media and marketing manager.
“When you put into context the emotional way that Zebre approached the game. Naturally, they lost somebody very dear to them during the week. The game had a lot of meaning for them” commented McFarland
On the game itself, McFarland acknowledged the defensive effort of the hosts before praising the Ulster set piece, particularly in the third quarter when Ulster turned possession and territory into scores.
“That was a really tough first half for us to weather and we were hoping our set piece would get on top of them in that first half and they held us, and they held us really well. Then at the start of the second half our set piece in that third quarter really got on top of them and that sort of changed the game. So, to come away with six tries and not let in a try was a big achievement,” said McFarland.
Following Addison’s try, James Hume added to Ulster’s tally just short of the hour mark. Both tries came about after the sprinkling of some magic from Craig Gilroy.
After a delightful off load to put Addison away in the corner, Gilroy then had to think fast as he collected a pass from Addison on his knees before a clever flick released Hume for Ulster’s fourth try.
Afterwards McFarland not only praised Gilroy’s match night contribution, but also his all-round contribution to the squad and work effect.
“Craig obviously has the stardust that we all know about but one of the things that a lot of people wouldn’t realise is the amount of work he does off the ball as well. He’s one of our hardest working wingers around the pitch, you know, both attack and defence. He’ll work all day because he’s so fit. He’s such a positive influence around the squad as well. I was pleased he had a good game today” said McFarland of Gilroy.
For full back Addison, Saturday marked the Irish international’s first start of the season and the former Sale Shark pointed to McIlroy’s second try just before half time as the games turning point.
“I think you call them the championship minutes, don’t you? The five minutes before and after half time and the five minutes at the end of the game. Sometimes, especially the ones around half time if you can come up with something in either the first five minutes of a half or the last five minutes of a half it can be bit of a sucker punch to the opposition team and we probably benefited from that,” said Addison.
It’s a win that leaves Ulster in fine fettle before they face Italian opposition for the second time in a week with Benetton arriving at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.