Rugby Union

McFarland points to breakdown issues after Ulster's perfect start is halted by Connacht

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

United Rugby Championship: Connacht 35 Ulster 11

ULSTER’S 100 per cent start to the season came to a grinding halt on Saturday evening at the Aviva Stadium after Connacht stormed to a 36-11 victory.

Dan McFarland’s side had no answer to the pace, power and aggression that Andy Friend’s side brought to the occasion.

After Nathan Doak had kicked Ulster into a 3-0 lead, Connacht second row Niall Murray broke through the Ulster defence for the games opening try on 13 minutes.

Doak’s second penalty of the game reduced the gap to just one point, but on 24 minutes Connacht wing Mack Hansen intercepted a Billy Burns pass to race clear and touch down under the posts.

A frustrating opening half for Ulster was capped off on 32 minutes when Alan O’Connor picked up a yellow card for a shoulder charge to Connacht’s Dave Heffernan.

In a devastating third quarter tries from John Porch and Diarmud Kilgallen helped extend Connacht’s lead to 23 points, before a Bradley Roberts effort gave Ulster a glimmer of hope.

With the final play of the game, winger Hansen intercepted an Ulster pass to race down the Connacht left to wrap up a convincing and deserving win for his second try of the evening.

It capped off a memorable match for the westerners.

Afterwards, McFarland cut a very frustrated individual as he delivered his assessment of the game.

“I thought Connacht were good. I thought in general we couldn’t get the go forward that our attack wanted. They did really well in the breakdown situation. A couple of key steals and that made our attack blunt and as a consequence we ended up defending a lot. Possibly as a result of that, there is the two intercepts which obviously came off the back of us forcing things and good play by them.”

Ulster may have won the battle for territory but it was their inability to turn this and possession into points on the board. More than once, Ulster decided to kick penalties to touch rather than to kick for goal and those missed opportunities came back to bite them on the resumption of the second half.

“Coming out for the third quarter it was obviously important that we got an opportunity to put those things right and we didn’t get out of our half. I think they had 74 per cent territory in that second half. We put in some really good sets of defence in that quarter. Every time we had an opportunity to go into their half, we made an error off a scrum, or turned the ball over at a breakdown, and allowed them back into the game or back into our territory. And that summed up the game,” added McFarland.

Iain Henderson was making his first Ulster appearance of the season and he echoed the sentiments of his head coach.

“I suppose one of the things that let us down massively was our breakdown,” said Henderson.

“Loads of turnovers there. Usually, we like to play quick ruck ball, retaining ball and that just wasn’t there tonight and that’s where Connacht maybe got most of their ball from,” continued Henderson.

Connacht would’ve been seen as Ulster’s toughest examination to date, and Henderson was also disappointed that Ulster couldn’t see out their final game before the international break in the same manner of their previous four games.

“It was probably disappointing that after the end of the five-game block we couldn’t finish it off on a high like the four games before it. Connacht have really upped the ante against us over the last number of years and they did it again tonight,” added Henderson.


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