Friday’s 18-6 defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill was Connacht’s fifth successive loss in the Magners League but forwards coach Dan McFarland was quick to defend the westerners’ performance afterwards.
Ulster edged the battle between the league’s bottom two teams but they were far from impressive, only pulling away in the final quarter thanks to tries from Tom Court and Matt McCullough.
When the sides met at the Sportsground in November, Ulster recorded a 30-13 win and, comparing both games, Connacht forwards coach Dan McFarland took plenty of positives from the trip to Belfast.
“If you compare it with the first game where physically we weren’t in the match in the first 15-20 minutes, this game was completely the opposite,” he told knockon.ie.
“I felt physically we dominated (here at Ravenhill). Ulster, for all their talent and internationals, played poor rugby. They didn’t have any expression and only kicked the ball.
“We played very well but the bottom line is that we didn’t take our chances.”
The finger of blame was not being pointed but although he kicked Connacht into a 3-0 lead, out-half Andy Dunne had a disappointing night with the boot as he missed three kickable penalties and was also wide with a drop goal attempt.
McFarland added: “As the game went on, 3-3, we missed three kicks – nine points – and I think Ulster were dead in the water then because they had no confidence.
“But we let them get back in with two charged down kicks and a try after that. From then on obviously they got themselves into the game.”
Just after the hour mark, Ulster prop Court rumbled over off a close range ruck for his side’s opening try and McFarland felt that was the game’s turning point.
“That was the key score. It was a shame but, as I said, if we had taken our chances it wouldn’t have been the key score.
“We would have been on a roll and they certainly wouldn’t have come out of their shell like they did.
“The way we were playing, we were the only team that wanted to play any rugby. For all their stars, we let them get away with the win,” the former Connacht prop said.
McFarland, who, along with Eric Elwood, coached the Ireland Under-20s to a Grand Slam last year, also responded to criticism from some of the province’s supporters who have become frustrated with Connacht’s lack of scoring power and failure to see out results.
“Every week we go out and try and do our best and nobody can criticise you for doing that.
“The players are doing their best, the coaching staff are doing their best, the supporters are doing their best and you’ve got to measure it on what you’re capable of doing.
“Nobody is going to say that we’re capable of producing what Munster produce week in, week out,” he insisted.
“But at the same time we can produce games like we did against Munster at the Sportsground recently, where we’re coming close to the number one team in Europe.
“Yes, of course we want to win. But if you want to win you’ve got to have the best players, that’s how it is.
“We have some excellent players but everybody knows, unless your eyes are shut, we don’t have the buying power of any other professional team – bar none.”
Connacht’s chances of securing Heineken Cup qualification are getting slimmer by the week with Michael Bradley’s side now eight points behind Ulster in the league table.
They are also eight points behind the Newport Gwent Dragons, their next opponents, but the Welsh region have two games in hand.
Commenting on how Connacht will approach their final three league games, McFarland said: “We’ll take one game at a time. I know it’s a cliché but that’s the only way you can play.
“We’ll target the Dragons away (next Friday). If we win three games and the Dragons lose their games, yes we can beat them. The Dragons are who we are chasing now.
“Ulster are still in there, they’re eight points ahead of us. We can still catch them and hope that they lose.
“We’ll play and we’ll play to win. We’re well capable of winning those final few games.”