Ulster boss okay over prospect of meeting Leinster in European quarter-final

Ulster boss okay over prospect of meeting Leinster in European quarter-final
Marty Moore of Ulster dives over to score his side's first try at Welford Road. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ulster's reward for making a first European Cup quarter-final in eight years may yet be a trip to Dublin to face Leinster's reigning champions.

Booby prize? Many would see it that way but even that daunting prospect wasn't near enough to dilute the sense of satisfaction the northern province's head coach Dan McFarland felt after sealing a spot in the knockout stages with a win away to Leicester on Saturday.

"In all honesty, at the minute I don't mind,” he said of that possible interpro clash.

“We're in a quarter-final. Any of those (other) sides is going to be really tough. We're going away from home, we're going to play one of the four best sides in Europe as it stands at the moment. We're in the top eight in Europe, great."

Ulster will make that trip down the M1 if Leinster see off Wasps in Coventry tomorrow (Sunday) and Toulouse fail to pick up a bonus-point win at home to Bath. The last time the two provinces met in Europe was in the 2012 final when Leinster won at a canter in Twickenham.

Ulster are not champion material just yet but making it through the pool stages for the first time since 2014 is a massive step forward for a club that has endured far too many losses on the park and far too much controversy and dysfunction off it.

Ulster arrived in Leicester needing just one bonus point to guarantee their passage into the spring. Failure to manage that need not have been fatal anyway given it would have required a very specific narrative between Munster and Exeter Chiefs later on Saturday evening to squeeze them out.

But the manner in which the side put an atrocious first-half behind them, turning a 13-0 deficit into a 14-13 victory, spoke volumes for the new impetus and conviction which McFarland has introduced since his summer arrival in Belfast.

"Play-off football is where you want to be,” said McFarland when asked to put this progress in context. “If you want to put yourself into a position where you're challenging for championships then you've got to be playing play-off football and you've got to be doing it regularly.

"I looked at what people said. I don't know if they described (Pool 4 with themselves, Leicester, Racing 92 and Scarlets) as a group of death but they certainly described it as probably the hardest group and we've come out of it with five wins.

"We're going to be in an away quarter-final, but Racing are a good side and ultimately they bested us over those two legs. But, in terms of what we've done this year, it is a credit to the players who have been out there and the other coaches that we're in the position we are.

"I wanted to get in on merit. I didn't want to be sitting here watching the Munster game. I actually said that at half-time, in a little bit of a bad mood, but they did it."

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