Ulster’s lack of signings explained by Dan McFarland

Date published: September 2 2021 - Planet Rugby

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has explained why Ulster have kept signings to a minimum ahead of the 2021/22 season.

The northern Irish province have made just one acquisition with experienced lock Mick Kearney joining their ranks on a short-term contract from Italian outfit Zebre.

Leone Nakarawa setback

After losing the services of star back-row Marcell Coetzee, Ulster were on the verge of signing Fijian utility forward Leone Nakarawa but that deal fell through when the former European Player of the Year failed a medical examination.

Nakarawa has subsequently joined Top 14 club Toulon and although losing out on his services was a setback for Ulster, McFarland admitted that there were little players available to improve his squad and he did not want to make new additions just for the sake of it.

“It was really disappointing that the Leone deal didn’t come through,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“It was a tough decision, but it was based on the right reasons.

“Looking forward, we haven’t written off bringing someone in, but the key thing is that we want to bring in the right person.

“If we’re bringing someone in then we want to bring in someone who is really going to make a difference to our back-row. We’ve a lot of good back-row players so it’s not a case of bringing in just another back-row number.

“It’s a case of bringing in someone who can make a significant difference and if we don’t find that then we won’t bring someone in, we’ll stay as we are.

“There are occasions when you need numbers because of injury crises or whatever, but we’re not at that stage so the recruitment in the back-row is that if there’s someone who can make a difference, then we’ll give it a go. If there isn’t then we’ll keep our powder dry.”

Despite the lack of signings there has been developments on the playing front over the past year with four Ulster players – Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Tom O’Toole and Nick Timoney – making their Test debuts for Ireland against the USA in Dublin in July.

“It was fantastic to see that many Ulster debutants playing for Ireland and playing so well,” said McFarland. “I know the Ireland coaches were impressed with them.

“I was never in doubt that they’d go in there full throttle and do really well, but to see them there on the pitch and making a mark, that was brilliant. It gives the club a lift.

“That’s a goal for us alongside consistently competing for championships, to bring those guys through and see them playing for Ireland. It’s a credit to them and the people who have supported them.”