“We’re Going To Demonstrate That Everybody Who Works In This Building Actually Gives A Sh*t.”
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For the second weekend in a row, Ulster Rugby are preparing for a knockout rugby match with most people writing them off before a ball is even kicked.
Disappointing defeats to Connacht and Leinster in the opening two games following the restart left Dan McFarland’s side in a precarious position as they looked to become just the second team in history to win a PRO14 semi-final away from home on Saturday.
But they did just that thanks to an inspired second-half performance against Edinburgh with summer signing Ian Madigan coming up with the goods in the last ten minutes to hand McFarland his first chance at silverware with the northern province.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a province that was in complete turmoil before his arrival. Results were poor, scandal was a plenty and the coaching situation had become a complete farce.
So what exactly has McFarland done at Ulster to change their fortunes?
“A lot of things that have changed in the period, not least circumstance and context,” McFarland told us.
The annus horribilis that was the year before was a lot to do with off-field stuff. Perhaps a little bit of stability coming in… it’s about saying, ‘we’re actually capable of doing this and we have a plan on how we’re going to get there. We’re going to work really hard to get there and we’re going to demonstrate to everybody that everybody who works in this building actually gives a shit.
“It’s not that they didn’t beforehand because they 100% did, but there was a perception because of the context that what happened in that year that people didn’t. And that perception was wrong.”
But “giving a shit” likely won’t be enough to defeat Leinster this weekend with the eastern province literally unbeatable this season having completed the entire domestic campaign undefeated. But Leinster “can be beaten” according to the former Scotland assistant coach.
“I want to use the phrase ‘we have a puncher’s chance’ but what have the bookies got us at, -10 at the moment?” McFarland baulked.
“That’s a two-score deficit in a final They are basically saying that we have got no chance.
“[Leinster] obviously can be beaten. Saracens beat them last year in a final. We have to go out and be able to have a physical intensity that can at least match them, have a game plan that is a way of getting into them but also is a way of executing.
“We are going to need big plays from our big players and we will need to be precise. If we can get those things right then we have a chance and if they don’t get those things right then it’ll obviously help us, but I am not planning for them to make any mistakes.”
And in terms of the pressure on Ulster this weekend – McFarland welcomes it with welcome arms.
“We want the pressure on us because if you don’t have the pressure on you, I genuinely don’t believe you care enough,” McFarland added.
“We promised ourselves our goal was to win silverware. As hard as that is and the fact only one team can do it, that’s what we said, that’s the only thing we wanted.
“With that comes the pressure to perform to the level you know you can.
“And also the pressure of the fact, if you lose, there’s a huge amount of pain afterwards.
“In sport, if the losses don’t hurt then the wins never mean as much. How can you possibly enjoy the heights of winning if you don’t know the massive lows of losing.”