While there was a bit of déjà vu about Leinster’s 13-3 victory over Munster in Dublin on Friday, Ulster’s win against Edinburgh at Murrayfield was a cracker that reached a dramatic conclusion.
Down 12 points at two separate junctures in the second half, and with so many errors that made winning seem like a pipedream, Ulster came back from the dead to win 22-19 with a pressure penalty goal by replacement flyhalf Ian Madigan.
It was a cruel way for Edinburgh to bow out after appearing to be in control of the match halfway through the second half, but for Ulster it was a lifeline and an opportunity to go for broke in the final.
“It doesn’t matter who we are, we know no-one will give us a chance against Leinster,” said McFarland of Saturday’s all Irish final at Aviva Stadium.
“But we will prepare properly. We’ll come up with a game plan we hope will work and we’ll give it a shot. I wouldn’t say I was confident at 12 points down, not the way we were playing up until that point. We had made a lot of mistakes. We hadn’t played particularly well.”
McFarland was right about that as Ulster were quite poor for long periods of the game with promising build-ups on attack invariably being thwarted by handling errors.
But despite that, they emerged victorious and were pretty impressive once they had the momentum in the last quarter.
Having been pretty unspectacular in the two league games following their return to play after the COVID-19 pandemic, one could possibly argue that Ulster have finally found some form, especially after winning as they did at Murrayfield where they were up against it and came back against the odds. This is sure to provide a jolt of confidence.
They know they will be up against it at Aviva, but after having overcome the odds once they will give themselves a chance of doing it again.
For both losing sides this past weekend it would have been easy to apportion individual blame, but neither of the vanquished coaches were eager to do that.
Munster’s JJ Hanrahan has been so good with the boot this season that he finished the league stages of the competition with a 90 percent success rate, however, he missed two relatively easy kicks in the semi-final that could have had a big impact on the game.
“Yeah, look, they were crucial,” said coach Johann Van Graan. “We had limited opportunities in the semi-final and we didn’t convert them.
“But we as a group we win together and we lose together. We’ll take those penalties as a group.
“I thought we built a lot of pressure between the 50th and 65th minute, and then we didn’t convert those chances.
“Leinster went down the other side of the pitch and went up 13-3. We had a chance after that, in the 77th minute, to get a maul try but Leinster stopped it.”
As disconsolate as Hanrahan was after the final whistle in Dublin so was Edinburgh’s reserve hooker Mike Willemse after their Murrayfield encounter.
It was Willemse’s knock-down of the ball that gave away the penalty which Madigan kicked to break the home team’s hearts.
For coach Richard Cockerill, however, individual errors were not to blame, but rather the fact that the team wasn’t good enough.
“It’s disappointing when you are 19-7 ahead,” said Cockerill. “We didn’t control the game. All credit to Ulster. It’s all of our own making. We should have made better decisions and executed better. It’s not good enough from us.
“In these games it’s the little things which make the difference and some of our players clearly don’t understand what that looks like,” said the former England hooker. “We’ve got international Test players with Scotland and they should know better. We’ve had enough opportunities to learn and we didn’t deliver. It’s got to improve and quickly.”