Rugby Union

Frustrated McFarland picks out positives from agonising Ulster defeat to La Rochelle

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland was full of praise for scrum-half Nathan Doak despite their defeat to La Rochelle in their Heineken Champions Cup game against the reigning champions in France on Saturday
Paul McIntyre

Heineken Champions Cup Pool B: La Rochelle 7 Ulster 3

WHEN on a losing streak, the fine margins between the winning and losing of a game become even finer.

Take the current run the Ulster rugby side are on at the minute. With one win in their last six outings, not many gave Dan McFarland's side any hope of leaving the Stade Marcel-Deflandre, the home of the current European champions La Rochelle, with anything to cheer about. But despite their best performance in two months, Ulster again left with only a losing bonus point to their name.

Afterwards McFarland referenced two moments that proved to be the difference in the winning and losing of the contest. One at the end of the first half when his side were camped deep in the La Rochelle 22 and came away with nothing, and the second in the dying minutes when the home side bombarded the Ulster line to score with the final play to win the game.

“We had our moment when we were dominant and they offended so many times on those mauls that I think it should have been a penalty try. When they had theirs five metres out, they dominated enough to get the score and that's the difference,” said a despondent McFarland.

McFarland also looked back on Ulster's period of dominance with annoyance that his side weren't awarded a penalty try.

With La Rochelle continually infringing close to their own line, McFarland felt that the officials should've taken a sterner approach against the homeside.

“When I look back on it, that period around 35 minutes when we're completely dominating them five metres from their line, I believe we should have been awarded a penalty try and they got a yellow card. That's effectively the difference

“When the opposition are that messy, throwing bodies in all over the place, it's very difficult to referee. That's how La Rochelle defend mauls, it is messy and a lot of it is illegal. But I thought that we had so much dominance there that it should have been spotted.”

Although they did leave the west of France with another defeat, every Ulster player, coach and supporter should've been waking up on Sunday morning talking about a win. Instead, it was another hard luck story and a losing bonus point.

In a contest played in a constant deluge, Ulster more than gave them as good as they got from Ronan O'Gara's all-star line-up. A line-up that may have been down a few regulars but they still lined out with Brice Dulin, Teddy Thomas and Gregory Alldritt.

On a night when the Ulster players stood up McFarland singled out a number of his younger squad members for praise, particularly scrum-half Nathan Doak.

“I thought the forwards were magnificent in that second half and I thought Nathan did a really good job, particularly in that second half controlling the game. That was so difficult to control in that weather.

“The wind was swirling, especially up the middle of the park. Very difficult to control and some of his kicking was excellent.

“Harry Sheridan was a debutant and he came on. Harry's a big man, a big powerful man and he had a telling play within I think sixty seconds. I think he made a turnover or a tackle, a reef that we ended up getting the ball back.

“So, I'm really pleased for him.”

Sheridan was introduced on the hour mark for Iain Henderson who McFarland admitted had to be withdrawn due to a HIA injury. An injury that will likely rule his captain out of next Saturday's winner takes all clash with the Sale Sharks.

Rugby Union