Saturday 19 October 2019

Ulster coach Dan McFarland won't change his plans as Johnny Sexton is ruled out of Champions Cup clash

Leinster will face Ulster in the Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium without Johnny Sexton. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster will face Ulster in the Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium without Johnny Sexton. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland insists that his side will not adjust their game-plan to allow for Ross Byrne playing at out-half rather than Johnny Sexton in Saturday's Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster.

McFarland was quick to point to the impact that Byrne has already made in Sexton's absence as the 23-year old looks to pull the strings at a sold out Aviva Stadium.

"I think there would have been a lot of interest around that, particularly around Johnny not playing," McFarland admitted.

"But from my point of view: Ross Byrne played well in rounds five and six, steered them to comfortable victories away to Wasps and at home to Toulouse. He's an excellent player with some great facets to his game."

Asked if he felt that it was something of a psychological advantage not to have the current world player of the year lining up against his side, McFarland remarked: "That is not how I would look at it.

"Coming back to the point earlier, Leinster are a team that have won four Champions Cup, double winners from last year and they did not get there by relying on one or two players, that is the bottom line. This is a quality side whoever they are slotting in.

"In terms of a psychological advantage, I don't really think so. We have to be totally focused on what we are doing. If we are reliant on feeling good because they do not have something, that is totally the wrong attitude.

"We want to go out there and put our best game on that is it bottom line. We cannot help the fact they are picking this person or that person.

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"We prepare as if they are picking the players we think they are going to pick, but obviously it does not make a massive difference when we come to the game."

McFarland believes that his younger players, many of whom have never played at the Aviva, will handle the pressurised occasion in front of a sold-out crowd.

"I'm sure they'll cope very well," he added. "Michael Lowry has already played away in Paris, performed exceptionally well. He's a confident young man. Robert Baloucoune is a very laid back character. But the way he plays is pretty intense physically, they're relish that.

"There'll be no fear with them. We understand these are not guys with 50-60 international Tests under their belt, we want them to go out there and give everything they've got and we can't ask anything more.

"We'll need some of our best play in our defence to slow down the speed of their attack. And in terms of our attacking intent, we'll have to make sure we hold onto the ball, we'll have to make sure we're incisive in terms of breaking them down.

"The effort and fight for every inch mentality has to be a given, then we'll have other stuff on top of that."

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