By Peter Lockhart
A committed display by Ulster on Friday saw them overwhelm the hosts, Edinburgh, to secure a bonus point win and book a home play-off game in the knock-out stages of the Guinness Pro14.
McFarland acknowledged that his side’s disappointment following last weekend’s away defeat to Glasgow served as motivation ahead of Friday night’s important clash with Edinburgh.
“We had a big debrief on Monday, there was a bit of misery and a lot of humble pie, which was deserved. We came out, took what we could learn from it and moved on.”
Indeed, Ulster’s coach attributes his side’s focused and fierce performance as the product of hard work and mental preparation in the week preceding Friday’s must-win game.
“We knew we had a massive task this week, to come to our fellow Champions Cup quarter-finalists and win. In the end, the bonus point was a testament to the hard work and the mentality of the guys during the week and what they put on the pitch against a really good Edinburgh team.”
McFarland also highlighted the improvement made in Ulster’s set-piece which provided his side with a solid platform from which to attack.
“We were a bit messy last week around our set-piece but there was a big improvement. We did a lot of work on the scrum in the week. We knew that was going to be titanic — it was not going to win the game for us but could certainly lose the game if we let Edinburgh get on top of us.”
“We also needed possession. Last week, it did not look good, but we did play some really good rugby. The bottom line is that when you lose a lot of lineouts, as we did then, you cannot get a foothold in the game. In this game, we were consistently able to get a foothold.”
Ulster’s pack was bolstered by the return of man-of-the-match Iain Henderson, who put in a typically powerful and aggressive performance, helping the Ulster pack to dominate.
Ulster’s power up-front was matched by the ruthless finishing of Ulster’s young wingers, Rob Lyttle and Robert Baloucoune who both took their tries well.
McFarland praised his team’s performance, noting that the pride and purpose Ulster played with on Friday night signals a growing confidence in the squad.
“It is really important for the club, we are a team that wants consistently to compete for championships and to do that, you have to be in play-offs.” said McFarland.
“There is the dual aspect of also getting Champions Cup qualification, which is done now. That is very important as well.”
Ulster’s big-game nous saw them in control and dominant in every department for most of the game. McFarland will hope his side are able to recreate this formidable form in their remaining important games this season – a challenge the squad will relish.
“We enjoyed the preparation for our Champions Cup quarter-final and we’ll enjoy preparing for a PRO14 quarter-final.”
Ulster will now focus their preparations on a huge game against Connacht in the quarter final of the Guinness Pro14 at the Kingspan stadium on 3-4 May.