Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has expressed his frustration with his side’s encounter with La Rochelle being moved to Dublin.
The pitch at Kinsgpan Stadium in Belfast was deemed to be unplayable by the EPCR despite the best efforts of Ulster staff this week, with the game moved to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin as a result.
Supporters were not permitted to attend the game at the Aviva Stadium due to issues with logistics, as well as concerns over spectator health and safety due to the timing of the venue change.
La Rochelle ultimately won 36-29 in front of the empty stadium, although Ulster did produce a stirring comeback in the second half to pick up two bonus points, having trailed 29-0 at half time.
Dan McFarland on the late change of venue.
McFarland was largely focused on the venue change after the game however, as he told the Belfast Telegraph that he believes the match could have been held at Kingspan Stadium.
“My personal opinion is that we were there this morning at 10 o’clock, 9.30am, and that pitch was playable,” McFarland stressed.
“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 circumstances. It was ready.
“We knew it was going to be ready because the weather was predicted to change overnight. But that decision was taken away from us. The bottom line is the decision was wrong. It could have been played at Ravenhill.”
A picture is worth a thousand words 👀
La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara looks stunned after an incredible second half at the Aviva Stadium, where Ulster fought back to claim two bonus points.#HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/jEuNVfu0C0
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 17, 2022
The Ulstermen keep their Champions Cup hopes alive.
Alarm bells must have been ringing for McFarland at half time as he saw his side fall 29 points behind La Rochelle, although Ulster ultimately left Dublin with two points after four second half tries.
Ulster currently find themselves in ninth place in Pool B of the Heineken Champions Cup, which would see them fail to qualify for the knock out stages, while Munster and Northampton Saints below them have a game in hand.
The two points Ulster picked up against La Rochelle have given them a life line however, although they will surely need to win at least one of their remaining two games.