Dan McFarland full of respect for in-form Connacht

Ulster coach Dan McFarland knows all about Connacht
Ulster coach Dan McFarland knows all about Connacht

ULSTER coach Dan McFarland is wary of the threats that his old province Connacht pose as the sides clash in the United Rugby Championship quarter-final at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night. 

McFarland spent 15 years in Galway with Connacht - six as a player and then when he retired from his  front row duties, he became assistant coach at the Sportsground for nine years. 

Connacht produced a strong end to the regular URC season, winning five of their last six games to finish seventh in the table, while Ulster secured second place and home advantage to the final. 

“We had a really tough game in the Sportsground earlier in the season and Jack (Carty) missed a kick at the end to draw it. The games against Connacht are always competitive,” stated McFarland. 

“We are definitely not looking any further than trying to win a massive inter-provincial game at home. 

“Connacht have had a real resurgence this year. They had a really tough start to the year, a lot of that was down to the putting in of the new pitch and that meant they had to have a number of away games in a row - and momentum is a funny thing in sport. 

“They have won five of the last six URC games and that is a testament to the work Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins have done with the squad. 

“They will come hungry, it is do or die in the play-offs. We’ll expect an extremely physical and aggressive Connacht side coming to play against us.” 

“Connacht are extremely tenacious around the breakdown and contact area - they are in your face the whole time, they live on the offside line to get up and get in your face. 

“They have a great counter attack and turnover game, they score a lot of their tries from counter attack and turnover and they also manage the field very well.” 

McFarland (right) knows the Ulster defence will have to be on top of their game against the Connacht back line which includes Ireland Grand Slam winners Mack Hansen and Bundee Aki. 

“I have a lot of admiration about the way Jack Carty has gone about his business in his career, he has evolved into a player that orchestrates that team around the park very well so we will be expecting more of the same. 

“Connacht are fast and punchy when they get that turnover ball, Caolin Blade is playing particularly well this year, together with Jack they obviously get the most touches so those are guys that we really have to look after,” McFarland added.

“They have got a number of really good backs. Mack Hansen stands out as one, Bundee stands out as one and they are real threats. 

“They are an impressive group of individuals and play well as a team.”

Regardless of what happens in the knockout stage of the competition, McFarland feels Ulster should take pride in their second-place finish in the league. 

“In terms of legacy and how I feel about finishing second, the team, the players and the support staff should be very proud of themselves,” he said. 

“It is an 18-game season, we won 13 games, have gone one better than we did last year, we have scored 75 tries this year and demonstrated that we can win some tough games,” he added. 

“Even with the sticky patch in the middle of the year we have come out and won 13 games and managed to finish one place ahead of where we did last year, so in terms of legacy and what we have done they should be proud of that.”