Head Coach, Dan McFarland was content with Ulster’s dogged 7-11 victory against Cardiff Blues at a wet and blustery Rodney Parade on Monday evening.
“Cardiff had been playing well; they’re a tough team and we had to persist, so I was really pleased with the result,” he says.
“I knew that if it came down to persistence and grind, we were never going to be lacking in that area. We could have made it a bit easier for ourselves in the way we played with our game management, particularly at points in the second half when we made some really good plays but didn’t manage to make that pay by putting the ball down into Cardiff’s 22. We can definitely do better there and can be a little more ruthless when we play in opposition 22.”
Ulster spent a sustained period of time within 5 metres of the Blues’ line just before half-time and had numerous reset scrums, showing great patience and retention of the ball, which McFarland was particularly pleased with.
“It seemed like an eternity we spent on their line, but at the same time, I take a lot of positives from that. Playing against a team like Cardiff, they steal ball at rucks for fun; they’re the toughest team to play against in the league there and have four out of the top 5 jackal threats. We knew that was going to be difficult but before half-time, we managed to hang on to the ball and persist. In the end, it was a little bit of broken-up play with Mikey Lowry slithering through a gap which is what he does. It was a great bit of persistence.”
The psychological boost of having worked so hard for such a prolonged period and eventually getting the score through the dancing feet of Michael Lowry, was hugely important for McFarland’s men.
“From having had plenty of time to score the try, we were down to a scrum with a minute to go before half-time. If you make one mistake or get held up over the line, that’s the end of the half. We all know in the psychology of the game, the momentum swing that can happen there going into half-time.”
“I remember in the first year I was here playing away in Treviso; it was one of James Hume’s first games and he made a try-saving tackle over the line, just on half-time. They were absolutely pounding us and I just remember the sight of the Treviso players going off the pitch. They were down but our guys sprinted to the changing room. We were on the verge of that against Cardiff; if they held out before half-time, it would have been them sprinting the length of the pitch to the changing rooms and we would have had to do a real job to get our mindset right coming out in the second half. As it was, we got over there and the rest is history.”
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Ulster’s young players once again put in a composed display in difficult conditions. Academy back three, Ethan McIlroy was introduced to the game early and looked particularly comfortable in the air.
“Ethan is so brave under the high ball. He’s technically one of our best exponents of that, if not, the best,” McFarland says. “I never have any doubts about Ethan out there. It was going to be a difficult night with really greasy conditions. The first half was windy as well, so it was always going to be tough.
“Ethan has got a really natural ability to beat the first defender. It’s a great game for him to play and there will be plenty to learn. It might not have been the same kind of thing as he would get on the Highveld against the Cheetahs, but he’ll learn just as much from a wet and windy night in Newport.”
In the second half, Cardiff Blues tried to bring their backs into the game by moving the ball wide, but Ulster’s impressive defensive line speed kept them contained and ultimately, closed them out of the game. McFarland was also happy with the dominant tackles Ulster made during this period.
“The defence worked really hard. We were really disappointed with the try off a set piece play in the first half where we just made an error. It was a set piece we worked on during the week and we made a defensive error. It cost us seven points on a wet night which are hard to come by.
“On the whole, the effort is there and there were some really muscular tackles out there. Some of the young lads made really good reads. It was great to see Stu McCloskey out there. He hasn’t played for a long time, so it was good to get him into the thick of things.”
Ulster have now won four games out of four in the Guinness PRO14, and face Glasgow Warriors at Kingspan Stadium on Monday 9 November (kick-off 8.15pm).