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Dan McFarland delivers Ulster promise ahead of new season


First day: Dan McFarland puts the scrum through their paces at Pirrie Park yesterday
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While all the attention was on the Guinness PRO14's official launch in Glasgow, new Ulster head coach Dan McFarland got straight down to work yesterday with the squad.

And with Ireland supremo Joe Schmidt in Belfast on a watching brief, McFarland's arrival clearly had the Kiwi's immediate stamp of approval after the IRFU finally managed, last weekend, to secure an early release for Ulster's new man from contractual duties as Scotland assistant coach which stipulated that he might not be available until January 2019.

McFarland, who is well acquainted with the Irish system after stints as a Connacht player and assistant coach - which came prior to joining the Glasgow Warriors coaching ticket three years ago - has spoken of his relief at finally taking the reins at the start of the week, four months after his appointment was made public.

The 46-year-old Englishman also sent out a message that he intends to see that Ulster are very much up for the challenge of what is to come, making it clear he wants his squad to deliver.

"It's great, it's brilliant to be here," he said. "Watching it from afar is always difficult, seeing the guys out on the pitch and not being able to be there is a difficult situation.

"I'm now going to spend time watching the coaching, watching the playing and soaking in the environment before we make any decisions on the priorities."

And then came his hard-hitting delivery:

"For me, though, there is one non-negotiable, and that is the fact we're going to fight for every inch.

"And when we get out on the park we've got to demonstrate that."

McFarland also hinted that there is no quick fix to Ulster's problems and that much work has still to be done.

"In terms of making great organisations and great teams, cohesion is a massive part of that and whenever you've had change and turnover like we've had over the last number of months it's always going to make it difficult.

"There is going to be a period of time where you spend rebuilding that cohesion," he said.

"But I think that ultimately there are tremendous opportunities within that for individuals to shine, burst through and show what they can do within the environment.

"That is fantastic, that is a great opportunity."

The new man also admitted that he, too, has a lot to learn.

"The fact that I've been involved in this competition and the Irish system is a help, but I also recognise that I'm new to the job and this is my first job as a head coach, so I think the biggest advantage is the fact that there's a great coaching team here who are going to help me and support me.

"They've (the other coaches) taken a lead and along with Simon Easterby (Ireland forwards coach who has been helping out at Ulster) who did a great job and Dwayne (Peel) leading the programme on the ground, they've all done a great job."

"I've been really pleased with what I've seen and there's been a really positive atmosphere."

In terms of what McFarland wants to achieve at Ulster - a province with a far from uplifting track record when it comes to retaining coaches - the new head coach wisely avoided identifying any specific goal and, instead, focused on what is undeniably a substantial rebuild.

"This is a province with a hugely successful legacy and a very significant place within its community," said McFarland, who has a three-year contract.

"But, at the moment, it is definitely one step at a time and it's very important that we are where are feet are.

"But, at the moment, it is definitely one step at a time and it's very important that we are where are feet are.

"Hopefully, at some point, we'll be able to look up and see that bright future."

Ulster play their second, and final, pre-season friendly on Friday at Wasps before opening their PRO14 campaign at home to the Scarlets eight days later.

Belfast Telegraph

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First day: Dan McFarland puts the scrum through their paces at Pirrie Park yesterday