Week by week, hope and optimism surrounding Ulster Rugby continues to grow.
And why shouldn’t it?
The northern province are coming off the back of a hugely successful fortnight in Europe where back-to-back wins over Bath and Clermont Auvergne sees them top of Pool 3.
In the Guinness PRO14, they are sitting second in Conference A and can consolidate that position and potentially close the gap on Leinster with a win over the Scarlets who visit the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
What is arguably most pleasing is that Ulster are showing real character and grit to win games in difficult circumstances. Although head coach Dan McFarland would prefer his side to be clinical as to not create as much drama in late stages of games, he is content with where his team currently find themselves.
However, it is the environment which the Englishman has created, the tenacity which exists in training and the fostering of competitiveness among the squad which is really driving performances.
As McFarland says, it is that “extra inch mentality”, which he sees as a prerequisite to any side he coaches.
“It has been mentioned to me a few times but for us, that’s the standard that we have to live by,” McFarland said at a PRO14 event in Cardiff.
“It’s the foundation and I don’t think it in its self wins matches but if you don’t have it, you’re going to be in trouble. It helps for grinding out games and for the last year and a half, we’ve done that.
“On a personal note, that’s the kind of team I want to be involved in. I don’t want to be involved in a team that doesn’t have an every inch mentality. If there’s one place in the world where people are willing to fight for stuff, fight for what they believe in and their cause, it’s Ulster Rugby.”
Newly appointed club captain Iain Henderson recently spoke about the edge which exists in training but McFarland reveals that he’s not doing anything different this season, it’s simply the players are growing increasingly accustomed to his methods.
“It’s the same philosophy and same focus that we’ve had for the last year and a half. Obviously, the more we do it, the better we get at it. For me, it’s the way that I like to train, it’s the way the guys like to train, I think having a competitive edge at training and having an intensity, a speed and tempo to the way that we train – it’s fun.
“It’s really enjoyable. It provides opportunities for the guys to be put under pressure and to get better under pressure.”
Ulster welcome the Scarlets to Belfast on Friday and with the Welsh side set to miss many of their international players due to the Barbarians coming to town, it’s an opportunity for a big win although McFarland has been impressed with Brad Mooar’s side.
“They have (a good start to the season). They’re five and one. They’ve been playing some really good stuff. Brad Mooar has come in. There’s a couple of things about the way that they play that have changed but one thing that hasn’t changed is their ambition and their ability to move the ball.
“They’ve got threats in their style of play from a number of elements. Defensively, they’re a team who are difficult to cope with. Over the last few years, Scarlets have been one of the classiest teams in our league so we’re expecting a very tough challenge on Friday night and it’s an important game for us.”