Saturday 16 December 2017

Thrilling victory leaves Ulster coach McLaughlin 'totally whacked'

Tireless Ulster punctured the hopes of French champions Clermont Auvergne in an absorbing Pool 4 battle at Ravenhill on Saturday.

The French side could not steer their way through a compelling second-half onslaught from Ulster -- and coach Brian McLaughlin admitted he was mentally drained after his side came back from the dead to get their Heineken Cup challenge off to a winning start. Thanks to a piece of individual brilliance by replacement Adam D'Arcy, Ulster made it nine straight European wins at Ravenhill.

Trailing 11-9 with 10 minutes remaining, D'Arcy, who had come on for a dazed Simon Danielli, took off on a mazy run from deep inside his own half and just before he was flattened by Clermont captain Aurelien Rougerie, he slipped a pass to his out-half Ian Humphreys who skipped over the line at the corner. Humphreys converted from wide out -- game over.

But in the end it left McLaughlin exhausted after praising his side for the way they bounced back from a very lethargic first-half performance.

"I'm done," said McLaughlin in the post-match conference. "I'm going home. I'm totally whacked. That was a very demanding game not only for the players, but also the coaching staff.

"We were at home and we have a superb record at Ravenhill and to add a team like Clermont to that list is phenomenal. Yes, in the first half we made the same errors we have made earlier in the season, but we are creating opportunities.

"At half-time we sat down and were very straightforward in what we wanted to do and to be fair the players stuck to it and got the rewards they deserved. It was an unbelievable display by everyone involved.

"There was a realisation that we were well in this game. The contact situation out there on the park was ferocious. I said earlier in the season about our lack of physicality, but you certainly could not fault it on Saturday.

"It shows that we can do it in such a huge game. Now we have to move on. There is no sense turning in a performance like that and letting it all go to waste. We go to Welford Road next Saturday and we must produce the same type of performance," said McLaughlin, who praised D'Arcy in sparking Ulster.

"Adam is a smashing player. You only have to go back to last season in Europe where he performed superbly. He's a very talented player and it shows that our squad is getting stronger to be able to bring him off the bench."

While Stephen Ferris and Rory Best were the top performers, it was Humphreys who claimed all Ulster's points, adding three penalties to that try which he converted from wide out.

But it was an error-strewn and very nervous Ulster that underperformed in the opening 40 minutes. Their mistakes made Clermont look particularly good.

A missed tackle on Rougerie after seven minutes allowed left wing Noa Nakaitaci to dance through a flat-footed defence to score.

Scrum-half Paul Marshall recovered from a shaky opening period to spark Ulster into action with a tap penalty, but then, a brilliant piece of covering back by Chris Henry prevented another try.

David Skrela and Humphreys again exchanged penalties, but it was the Ulsterman's second penalty in first-half injury-time that helped give Ulster that boost going in at the break.

It was a different Ulster on the restart, with Ferris leading the charge and Best buzzing all around the park while Humphreys and Marshall were fashioning territory.

It was just like the old days of 1999 as the crowd became the 16th man to encourage the men in white whose pack were simply awesome in the second half. In the end it was that D'Arcy break that set up the victory and finally silencing a large and vociferous Clermont following.

Ulster -- S Danielli (A D'Arcy 56); A Trimble; D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; T Court (P McAllister 67), R Best, J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 67), J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, S Ferris (W Faloon 76), C Henry, P Wannenburg.

Clermont Auvergne -- L Byrne (R King 78); W Fofana, A Rougerie, capt, R King (JM Buttin 72), N Nakaitaci; D Skrela (B James 50) M Parra (K Senio 68); L Faure (C Ric 60), B Kayser, D Zirakashvili (Kotze 50), N Hines, J Pierre (J White 72), J Bonnaire, G Vosloo, E Vermeulen (J Bardy 64).

Ref -- W Barnes (England).

Irish Independent

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