Rugby Union

McFarland happy Ulster get the job done and set up quarter-final with Munster

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland during the warm up before the European Rugby Challenge Cup Semi Final match at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, Leicester. Picture date: Friday April 30, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story: RUGBYU Leicester. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire...Editorial use only. No commercial use. No false commercial association. No video emulation. No manipulation of images..
Paul McIntyre

ULSTER will face inter-provincial rivals Munster in a home URC quarter-final after holding off a strong finish from the Cell C Sharks at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

After going into the half-time break 10 points to the good, Dan McFarland’s side seemed to have been on their way to a comfortable win after stretching their lead at one stag to 17 points.

But the Sharks, who began the weekend sitting in third spot in the URC rankings, launched a sterling fightback and Ulster just about held on for the three-point win that gave them a home play-off next weekend.

"We had a job to do, to get the home quarter-final," a delighted McFarland said afterwards.

"It was us or them, and we did the job and I thought for a big chunk we controlled it. They showed a little bit of brilliance at the end, got back within touching distance, which wasn't very comfortable for a few minutes. Apart from that I was very pleased.”

Ulster very much were the better side for the opening half and Michael Lowry’s try on 26 minutes was just reward for all the home side’s attacking endeavour.

John Cooney added the conversion to an earlier penalty and Ulster were full value for their 10-0 lead. A lead that maybe should have been greater only for some poor execution from the home attack.

“We created a lot tonight. In those first 20 minutes our skill let us down but if we were on point to the level we should have been on, to be honest, we should have been even more comfortable than we were,” added McFarland.

Three minutes into the second half the situation did become more comfortable for Ulster when Stuart McCloskey broke through the Sharks rear guard to go in under the posts. Cooney’s second conversion pushed Ulster’s lead to seventeen points and a step closer to securing that home play-off spot.

But the Sharks came roaring back into the contest and bossed the remainder of the third quarter. However, an impressive home defence that was led magnificently by Nick Timoney, kept the visitors at bay.

“Some of our defensive sets that were called on in the second half, from the 50-minute mark to the 60-minute mark, I thought were outstanding,”

On another Player of the Match display from Timoney McFarland said:“I was chatting to him before the game about making an impact both sides of the ball and he definitely did that.

“It’s well within his grasp. He has the physical attributes to do that, he’s a big man and extremely powerful. He’s demonstrated he can have multiple impacts on a game and there’s no reason he can’t do that.

“It’s up to him to make sure he does that and those moments count, as he has in the last couple of games.

“I don’t see why he can’t be better than that and more imposing and more dominant in games, because he has the physical attributes and the rugby brain to be able to do that.”

The Sharks eventually got on the scoreboard through a Ntuthuko Mchunu try but Ulster responded in the best possible manner.

Robert Baloucoune broke down the right and the ball found it’s way to James Hume giving the centre the easy job of touching down to re-establish his side's 17-point advantage.

But in a blink of an eye, that lead was cut to just three.

Tries from Marius Low and Grant Williams set up a very nervy finish as the Sharks went seeking a win that would give them a home game next day out, but alas, their effort was a case of too little, too late.

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