Ulster boss on facing Sharks: 'It’s not complicated'
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Having already qualified for the top eight, Ulster has to overcome the star-studded Sharks to secure a home quarterfinal spot.
The Sharks, who will be bolstered by the return of Lukhanyo Am for their clash against Ulster, is currently the highest-placed SA team – third in the standings.
They are tied on log points (56) with second-placed Munster and the fourth-placed Stormers.
Ulster is fifth, but far from out of it. The Irish side is just a point and two places behind their South African opponents – making Friday’s match crucial for both teams.
Speaking to reporters in a media briefing, Ulster coach Dan McFarland revealed the importance of booking a home quarterfinal, following their disappointing European campaign.
McFarland’s team failed to make the Champions Cup play-offs after their 23-30 defeat to Toulouse.
“It is fair to say that [Friday’s match against Sharks] is a very important game,” McFarland said.
“We have both qualified for the quarterfinals and we have both qualified for Europe, but the prize is a home quarterfinal and it goes to the winner.
“That has a huge impact on both teams.
“For us, it’s about wanting to play at home in front of our fans.”
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When asked what he expects from his South African opposition, McFarland admitted there are a lot of similarities between the four franchises, but pinpointed that the Sharks’ attack from broken play is lethal.
“It’s not complicated, really. They test you in the set-pieces, all of them in varying degrees in different areas,” he said.
“It’s not rocket science, but it is at another level to a lot of the teams in the URC.
“I think all the Northern hemisphere teams have experienced that this year.
“Their physicality and ball-carrying [ability] are also right up there.
“Three of those teams are right up there in terms of winning gainline when playing off No.9. It’s tough to deal with, though it is an area we pride ourselves in.
“They have also got lethal back three, so broken-field running and loose kicking can be fatal against a number of the South African teams, the Stormers, the Bulls and particularly the Sharks.”
One battle that will be intriguing to watch is the breakdown – which will see Ulster’s Duane Vermeulen trying to get the better of fellow Springbok Siyanthanda Kolisi and his loose forward partners.
“Both are fabulous players, both World Cup winners,” said McFarland.
“And it is great that our home stadium here has a chance to host players of that quality.
“Siya Kolisi is not the only star in the Sharks team.
“They have got a number of World Cup winners in their squad and they will bring some stardust to Ravenhill Stadium on Friday, just like we will put out on the pitch.”