Champions Cup: Dan McFarland blasts late venue change decision

Jared Wright
Head coach Dan McFarland has blasted the late venue change that saw Ulster host La Rochelle at the Aviva Stadium rather than Kingspan Stadium in the Champions Cup. 

Head coach Dan McFarland has blasted the late venue change that saw Ulster host La Rochelle at the Aviva Stadium rather than Kingspan Stadium in the Champions Cup.

It was deemed that the Champions Cup tie could not take place at the Kingspan due to pitch conditions, leading to the game being moved to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium the day before the match.

Kingspan was ready

Ulster fought back from a 29-0 half-time deficit to secure two bonus points from the 36-29 result, as the game was played behind closed doors.

The change of venue upset McFarland, who stressed that Ulster’s home ground’s playing surface was playable long before Saturday’s 5.30 pm kick-off.

“My personal opinion is that we were there this morning at 10 o’clock, 9.30, and that pitch was playable,” McFarland said.

“I was there the night before, and the people there predicted that it was going to be playable.

“The work that the people did, the staff and volunteers, to get that pitch ready was phenomenal under the current circumstances. It was ready.”

The Ulster boss added that the decision was taken away from the club and made his feeling on the call clear.

“We knew it was going to be ready because the weather was predicted to change overnight. But that decision was taken away from us,” he said.

“The bottom line is the decision was wrong. It could have been played at Ravenhill.”

More to European rugby

The 50-year-old feels that European rugby is more than just the action on the pitch, and the atmosphere of no fans took away from the spectacle.  

“There is more to European rugby than a game played between four lines. There’s more than that. It’s an occasion,” he continued.

“Whether you’re in Thomond playing Toulouse, whether you’re in (Ravenhill) playing against Racing, whether you’re in Welford Road watching Dan Cole win his 300th cap, it’s an occasion.

“It has a spirit; it has feeling. If you want to reduce it to the word ‘product’, the ‘product’ is more than just the game.

“To me, that should be remembered in the decision-making in this sort of thing,” he concluded.

La Rochelle’s discipline almost cost them

Meanwhile, La Rochelle assistant coach Donnacha Ryan admitted playing the match with only a few people in the stands created a strange atmosphere and focused on his side’s discipline in the second half, which allowed Ulster back into the game. 

“The boys adapted really well to the last couple of days, especially to the beginning of the game as well,” said the former Irish international.

“I think we started really good in the first half, really precise, clinical. You know, I think Ulster, they are a very proud team, and I think last week was very, very difficult for them. I’m sure they had a tough week of it.

“But yeah, the first half certainly we were very, very, good. We gave away four penalties in the first half, but in the second half, we gave away 12.

“So that’s something for us to work on during the week. As well as the impact of our bench as well.”

READ MORE: Antoine Hastoy stars in La Rochelle’s win over Ulster, Stormers claim first victory over London Irish