In reviewing the disappointing 63-26 defeat last Saturday by the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, Ulster Head Coach Dan McFarland stressed that the quality and strength of the Cheetahs shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Cheetahs have been riding high of late with their recent form and expansive style of play, which McFarland was all too aware of.
“We came up against a team that was on a roll after the Currie Cup, winning the trophy. They are very cohesive and dangerous at home, as they demonstrated last year. We went into that game knowing that we were going to be challenged and that if we weren’t able to control possession, then we would be punished.
“We lost four lineouts and I put that down to some very good lineout defence, I don’t think our drill was wrong at all. I felt they were quite smart in the way they defended; they used a couple of the athletic guys to get up in front of us and as a consequence they were able to dominate that area. By playing against the Cheetahs, you just can’t do that – you need to keep hold of the ball.”
He takes some solace in the four-try bonus point that Ulster worked hard for in the second half.
“We were here last year, and we scored in the last minute of the game so as difficult as it is playing against the Cheetahs at altitude – and it was pretty warm – we were still playing hard at the end of the game. In the second half, it was a bit of a basketball game – we just knew we needed four tries and we went out in that second half with the objective of scoring four tries. I suspect two or three of Cheetahs’ tries were off the back of that.
Looking ahead to the fixture against the Isuzu Southern Kings this Saturday, McFarland is wary of their changes in coaching personnel and style of play, but remains focused on how Ulster can correct the errors made last week.
“Last year, Southern Kings were very open with a lot of counter-attacking and they took a lot of risk. This year, they’re far more risk-averse; their game is built around a very strong kicking game and mauls from lineouts. They also have some very dangerous backs so it’s a case of understanding what they’re about, but also making sure we’re getting parts of the game that we didn’t get right last week, right this week.”
“We’re fairly early on in the season and the Kings haven’t shown us too much. We understand certain things they do but it’s about focusing on ourselves and doing the things we do well correctly. One of those is making sure we make use of the possession we get and the other is dealing with what they’re good at.”