Ulster praise makes me nervous, says Dan McFarland

Three wins from three in the Champions Cup, but Dan McFarland says Ulster still have a long way to go to be considered a top-eight side in Europe.

Ulster praise makes me nervous, says Dan McFarland

Three wins from three in the Champions Cup, but Dan McFarland says Ulster still have a long way to go to be considered a top-eight side in Europe.

John Cooney’s 79th-minute penalty extended their unbeaten home run at Kingspan Stadium to 17 games, against a Harlequins side which posed a greater threat than Ulster had expected.

And with a trip to the Stoop to come on Friday night, followed by Clermont away in January, there are no guarantees Ulster will emulate last year’s achievement in reaching the knockout stages.

“I would consider us as being capable of being a top-eight team, but we have to be at the top of our game and perhaps get a little bit of luck along the way to think about quarter-finals as being a consistent thing,” admitted the head coach.

“We’re definitely not there yet. If you think of the teams who are going to be in the last eight, year in year out, we’re not on that list.

“You might put a wager on it, but you wouldn’t put your house on it.

“We are on a journey and we’ve got fair way to go before we become consistently good.”

Ulster have won their three games against Bath, Clermont, and Harlequins by a combined total of seven points. That suggests they are getting quite good at digging out results.

McFarland claimed: “Over the last few weeks there’s a lot of nice things being said about us in the press and it makes me slightly nervous because I don’t see us as good as that.

I see us as a team that can grind out wins that is in the process of becoming a consistently good team, and that is what I want us to be.

The sides were level 10 points each at half time before Harlequins silenced the home crowd with 14 unanswered points midway through the second half, hooker Elia Elia with two tries to put the visitors 24-15 ahead with 13 minutes to go.

Ulster responded, with replacement hooker Adam McBurney the unlikely hero.

He spun off from the back of a rolling maul to dot down for Ulster’s third try, on top of earlier efforts from Sean Reidy and Stuart McCloskey.

They still needed another score and a lively, if error-strewn, contest all came down to Cooney’s last-gasp kick from the 10m line — and with the wind behind him, it sailed between the posts.

McFarland admitted that Ulster had perhaps underestimated the English side.

“They came with real physicality and have some really good players who caused us trouble and perhaps we didn’t expect that — and that’s on me,” he said.

“That was a crazy stage, a 14-point swing there after Alex Dombrandt makes a fantastic play just when it looked like Louis Ludik was going to score. If he doesn’t do that then we probably win the game a lot easier, but we will have to be a lot better next week.”

Scorers for Ulster: Tries: Reidy, McCloskey, McBurney; Cons: Cooney 2; Pens: Cooney 2;

Scorers for Harlequins: Tries: Dombrandt, Elia 2; Cons: Smith 3; Pen: Smith

ULSTER: J Stockdale; L Ludik, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor, I Henderson; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee

Replacements: A McBurney, A Warwick, T O’Toole, K Treadwell, M Rea, D Shanahan, B Johnston, M Faddes

HARLEQUINS: R Chisholm; T Ismaiel, M Campagnaro, J Lang, G Ibitoye; M Smith, D Care; J Marler, E Elia, K Sinckler; S Lewies, T Cavubati; S Kunatani, C Robshaw, A Dombrandt

Replacements: J Musk, N Auterac, S Kerrod, D Lamb, T Lawday, M Landajo, F Saili, V Goneva

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).

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