In a press release issued on Monday, it was revealed that both players have undergone thumb surgery and are expected to be sidelined for up to 10 weeks. This places them on the treatment table for the forthcoming festive period, where they will be joined by fellow absentee Alan O’Connor.
“It’s one of those things, isn’t it? You don’t get a bus and then they all come in threes. I didn’t want any buses. It’s disappointing for Iain obviously.
“He’s off the back of playing some good rugby there and really looking forward to representing his province. Mattie Rea as well,” McFarland remarked at the Kingspan Stadium.
“Mattie was in a position where he could have covered second row for us. He was coming back to full fitness and looking to get a string of games together. Really unfortunate to get the injury and rule himself out of what would have been a pretty big period for him.”
Of the three locks that featured in Ulster’s impressive Champions Cup success over Scarlets last Friday evening, Irish international Kieran Treadwell is the only player currently in the shake-up for selection.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however, with Ian Nagle in line for a return to the squad ahead of Friday night’s PRO14 encounter against Munster in Belfast.
Considering he was drafted in on loan from Leinster as injury cover for an already threadbare department, this is is an ideal opportunity for the Cork native to step up to the mark.
“We would hope that Ian would be available for this weekend. If you hark back to earlier in the season, Peter Browne has obviously retired and Jean Deysel as well. They were two guys that were very capable second rows and would have been doing a job for us,” McFarland said.
“That’s the nature of things, these things happen. As I say, they often happen in groups, but you get on with it.”
McFarland will also have to manage front-line international stars like Rory Best in accordance with the IRFU’s player welfare policy, though this is something the former Connacht prop is fully prepared for.
“It’s the normal procedures, it will be with all the provinces there. The nationally managed guys will have one or two games off over that period. We’ll decide how we allocate our resources accordingly. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for young guys over this period. We’ll certainly be competitive.”
Currently lying third in the Guinness PRO14 Conference B table, Ulster also remain in the hunt for a Champions Cup knockout spot courtesy of those back-to-back triumphs over Scarlets. While McFarland acknowledges the importance of maintaining momentum, a 64-7 hammering against Munster in late September ensures motivation will also be high on their agenda.
“Obviously we’ve had two good results. There’ll be things that we’re going to work on this week, but our attention now turns to our friends and neighbours. We’re looking forward to welcoming them [Munster] here come Friday night. There is definitely a sense that, and we spoke about it this morning, that you win together but you also lose together.
“It hurt us when we were down there in Thomond Park. That was a difficult night. There was a few young fellas playing out there who didn’t get the best experience of representing their province. We want to put out a performance this Friday night that really demonstrates what a provincial game means to us.”
As he looks back on the 15 years he spent in Connacht – initially as a player, before moving into the role of assistant coach – interprovincial derbies evoke strong memories in McFarland. Conditions very often dictated the flow of a game, but McFarland quickly realised how important they were in a wider context.
“The first thing that jumps into my head, it’s not favourite memories. A 3-3 draw with Munster. A 3-0 loss to Munster. A 6-3, those are the things that stick in my mind and all of those were howling gales and wind. They’re really striking memories, because they’re really tough games. One of my favourites was my first year playing with Connacht, when we won down in Leinster.
“That was pretty special. We didn’t win many games back then. Somebody described it, they’re almost Irish trials. The players love that. They love that intensity. If you didn’t, then you’d stand out like a sore thumb. I love the intense rivalry and great atmospheres,” McFarland added.
Kingspan competition winners enjoyed a coaching masterclass with Ulster Rugby Head Coach, Dan McFarland as well as star players, Louis Ludik and Jordi Murphy.
80 students from winning schools, Derryhale primary school, Lurgan Junior High School, Threemilehouse National School, St. Louis Secondary School took part in the training session and experienced a Kingspan Stadium tour which was made possible by Ulster Rugby’s main sponsor.