Ulster may be seen as rank underdogs ahead of this weekend’s PRO14 final, and have been written off in all quarters, but according to their coach Dan McFarland, they believe they have a chance of doing the impossible.
The impossible is to beat a Leinster side that are defending champions, and who are unbeaten this season in PRO14 action, with the bookies giving them a 10 point head start ahead of the final and virtually writing the Northern Irish side off.
But not according to McFarland, who believes his side have a very real chance.
“This is sport, there is only one winner of a trophy in any season and everybody is after that every year. The way I look at it, our objective when we came out of lockdown was to win a final – it is as simple as that and we won’t be satisfied unless we do,” he said.
“That doesn’t put into the shade the difficulty of the task, but that is what we are here for, we want to win trophies. To say we haven’t won this for this long and we haven’t done this for that long, you can say that about a lot of teams. In our competition it is most teams, because it is Leinster keep keeping it for themselves.
“Ulster have been a very good team for a long period. They have been regulars in playoff games and there is only one team that can win the trophy if things go your way. But we are down to the last two, so we have a chance.”
Even McFarland says that Leinster look unbeatable, but that is where he hopes complacency will set in and give his side the opportunity to upset the odds.
“Well they look unbeatable. They are unbeatable. Can they be beaten? What else am I going to say?” McFarland said when asked about Leinster’s supposed invincibility
“I want to use the phrase we have a punchers chance, but what have the bookies got us at ? Minus 10 at the moment? That is a two score deficit in a final. They’re basically saying we have no chance. But yeah, they obviously can be beaten, Saracens beat them last year in a final.
“We have to go out and have a physical intensity that can at least match them. We have to have a game plan that firstly has a way of getting into them, but also that we can execute. We are going to need big plays. We are going to need some of our big players to make big plays. And we are going to need to be precise.
“If we can get those things right we have a chance and if they don’t get those things right it will obviously help us. I’m not planning for them to make any mistakes.”
And Leinster have got everything going for them, which is why they are the leading side in the competition and unbeaten this season.
“Look there are a lot of factors that make Leinster a great team, probably starting with their demographic. They have a larger population to build from, and a lot of very talented rugby players. They have also put together a really good system that has made the most of those players and developed them. All the way through to a senior setup where the competition is very high between players.
“There is never any complacency because people just fall off the back of the truck if they are not keeping up. Then in terms of the way they play, they have a coaching team that has put together a style of play and a game plan that is extremely difficult to break down. When you put all of those, it kinda explains where they are where they are.”
Ulster need to absorb the pressure, and like their coach, embrace the nerves that you have before a final.
“I’m really looking forward to it. We spoke about it this morning. I’m relishing the pressure of the situation. I feel as if you are going to enjoy these final weeks, you have to feel the pressure. You have to want to have the pressure. There are not many people or teams who get the opportunity to feel this pressure, so we should be grateful to feel the pressure. I know I am.
“Preparing in a week like this for a game like this, it is exciting. You get nervous and you get excited, it is more or less the same thing anyway. I am very excited.
“We have to be better. That is the thing. When you look at it in terms of analysing a performance, we played really well that day. And yet we lost. It counts for nothing other than the long term development of our game. We need to be better in the areas we need to be better. That game was lost in a bit of precision on various areas of the park.
“We got a lot of things right, but there were a few things that we got wrong and in contrast when Leinster needed to be precise in that game they were. It won them the game in the end.
“There is a lot of stuff that will be different as well. There will be different players on the park this time and different dynamics. There are a lot of things that will be different. There is a lot of stuff we learnt but a lot of stuff that will be different as well.
“We have spoken to them about the fact we want the pressure on us. If you don’t have the pressure on you, I genuinely believe you don’t care enough. We promised ourselves that our goal was to win silverware, as hard as that is and the fact that one team can do it. That is the only thing we wanted. With that comes pressure, to perform to the level that you can.
“Add to that if you lose there is a huge amount of pain as well afterwards. In sport the losses don’t hurt and the wins never mean as much. How can you possibly enjoy the highs of winning if you don’t know the lows of losing?
The losses are only low if they mean a lot to you. That is why we put the pressure on ourselves.”