Ulster Rugby were devoid of confidence in their resounding defeat at Sale Sharks in the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday, according to head coach Dan McFarland.
The Irish province visited the AJ Bell Stadium with expectations of an evenly matched affair, but were outplayed and outmuscled by the Gallagher Premiership side as they went down 39-0.
After a 38-29 loss to Leinster Rugby in a top-of-the-table United Rugby Championship (URC) clash the week prior, McFarland says his team were lacking belief.
“We are probably lacking a bit of confidence at the moment, we saw that towards the end of the Leinster game and we definitely saw a bit of that [yesterday],” he said. “Confidence is a funny thing.
“It can only take a small thing to re-spark it or it can get knocked by a couple of things that don’t go your way.
“We have certainly got to find our mojo and get back to doing the things that we are good at which we didn’t see.”
McFarland refused to use travel disruptions, which saw Ulster only arrive in Salford on the morning of the game, as an excuse for their disappointing display.
A message to all Colin (or Cuthbert 👀) fans out there, caterpillars aren't always safe when Tom Stewart's around! 🐛#HeinekenChampionsCup | @UlsterRugby pic.twitter.com/4LSLVoU0uG
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 11, 2022
“It’s not ideal but we have done those things before, not at [Heineken] Champions Cup level, it’s not ideal preparation but you get on with it,” he stated. “It doesn’t explain that they were 30-odd points better than us.”
One key area where McFarland feels his team were outperformed was in contact, with the visitors struggling to prevent Sale from crossing the gain line on a regular basis.
“I think physically we struggled against them all over the park,” he admitted. “I don’t think there were any areas of the game where we got a handle on them for any length of time.
“I thought they were excellent not only in the physicality but in the execution of their play which I thought was really good.
“They put us under a lot of pressure in defence, our defence wasn’t able to get the kind of double tackles that you need to get on them to slow their ball down and as a consequence we ended up giving a lot of penalties away.
“The penalty count ended up 16-5 or something like that, obviously the amount of territory you give away there with a team their size, they are always going to punish you and they surely did.”
McFarland asserted that there is no time to linger on the loss as a home clash with reigning champions Stade Rochelais awaits in Round 2 on Saturday.
“Most of our energy going into next week will be focusing on what we have got to do against La Rochelle,” he said. “We are not going to fall into a swamp of self-pity.
“There is not enough time in a six-day turnaround when you are playing the European champions.”