Ulster: Head coach Dan McFarland says there is no tougher test in club rugby than Leinster

Ulster: Head coach Dan McFarland says there is no tougher test in club rugby than Leinster

McFarland said his Ulster team will relish the challenge of Leinster
Venue: RDS, Dublin Date: Saturday, 3 December Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio Foyle

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has said there is no tougher test in club rugby than facing United Rugby Championship leaders Leinster.

McFarland’s side meet their inter-provincial rivals in a top-of-the-table game at the RDS on Saturday.

Leinster are eight points ahead of second-placed Ulster in the URC table, though Ulster have a game in hand.

“Leinster have so many quality players, it is a challenge we absolutely relish,” said McFarland.

“We have got four massive games before Christmas, with two inter-pros sandwiching two European games.

“The first one happens to be Leinster. I don’t think there is a tougher task in club rugby at the moment for most of the year, it is certainly up there as one of the toughest anyway.”

Ulster’s only defeat in their seven URC outings this season came at home to Leinster in matchday three, when the visitors won 20-13 after leading 17-13 at the break in a rain-hit derby.

McFarland’s men have won four consecutive matches since that loss, which is one the head coach admitted they are keen to redress.

Leinster beat Ulster 20-13 in September
Leinster beat Ulster 20-13 at the end of September

“We will always look at our games against Leinster to take out the positives and for us to address the things that didn’t go so well,” added McFarland.

“We know Leinster pretty well as a team. That night, compared to the game in the previous season, there were key areas of the game where we didn’t get it right and we will look to address those this time.

“We don’t like losing at home, so there is definitely an element of wanting to try and redress that.

“We came back into the game well, but we gave ourselves far too much to do so. It is pretty clear that we cannot afford to start so slowly.”

While defeat to Leinster at the end of September is fresh in their minds, Ulster will also be thinking this week of their trip to the RDS last season, when they beat their rivals for the first time in eight years.

And, while any meeting between the two clubs is significant in itself, McFarland also stressed the importance of ensuring Leinster’s lead over his side does not become too great.

“We certainly enjoyed winning down there, it doesn’t happen very often,” he continued.

“We believe that we are a team that is able of competing with Leinster and, on our day, get a win.

“It is never going to be a given against a team that is as good as they are but demonstrating that we could do it is good for confidence, definitely.

“You don’t want the gap between yourself and the top team to stretch out, that is the bottom line. It is important but it is a game in and of itself.

“We have got to play it as what it is – 80 minutes of rugby where we are trying to get a win. You want to go into Europe on the back of a win.”

‘Brilliant’ to have captain Henderson back

Captain Iain Henderson returned for Ulster in their comfortable 36-15 home victory over Zebre on Friday night, and McFarland is delighted to have the Ireland international at his disposal again.

“It was brilliant to have him back,” admitted the 50-year-old. “He looked hungry and had some good bits of play, a couple of nice carries and a charge down which is a trademark of his.

“It reminded me of a charge down he did in the Aviva in 2019 when Kieran Treadwell scored near the start of the game. He has got those kind of plays in him.”

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