Connacht Rugby’s Dan McFarland is back at the Sportsground in Galway for his ninth pre-season as coach at the Western province. The former prop has recently returned from his stint as Head Coach of the Emerging Ireland tour where he led a squad of 26 Irish hopefuls to an IRB Nations Cup victory in Romania. caught up with the Assistant Coach on the summer tour experience, Connacht lock Mick Kearney, the preseason and his hopes for 2014/15.

Last month, Emerging Ireland added the Nations Cup to the Irish rugby trophy cabinet with three consecutive bonus points win over Russia, Uruguay and Romania. McFarland, who previously led the Ireland U20’s to a 6 Nations grand slam in 2007, thoroughly enjoyed taking on the international role:

“It was a really good experience and very satisfying”, said McFarland. ”Obviously, it was very different from what I do day to day with Connacht so even after a long season it was refreshing to take on a new role. You are working with different players and different coaches in a pretty intense atmosphere which was great.”

“It was intense, not just because we had three games to play in nine days, but also because we tried to create a level of excellence that would allow the players involved to experience an international set up as close to the senior squad as possible.”

McFarland, along with Neil Doak from Ulster Rugby, attended training camps with the Argentina-bound Irish squad prior to departing on their own tour to Romania. Armed with a brief from Head Coach Joe Schmidt, McFarland said it was clear what was expected of him on the development tour:

“Joe was interested in getting a close look at and finding out about players who may come through over the next 12–18 months with the upcoming November internationals, 6 Nations and obviously the Rugby World Cup all in mind.

“It’s no secret that Joe has spoken a lot about the importance of depth in Irish rugby and the emerging tour formed a part of that thinking with a strict view to the next 12-18 months.”

The Emerging Ireland squad included players from all four provinces as well as Player of the Tournament Robin Copeland who has recently moved to Munster Rugby from Cardiff Blues. McFarland listed the challenge of bringing together 26 players from five different clubs as an exciting one:

We came together on a Friday afternoon and played our first game seven days later. We had a weekend of preparation before flying out and then obviously very short training sessions out there. It was so important that we had a clear structure and plan about what we were going to do. That plan was put together with Joe and Les (Kiss) and a lot of what we did was very similar to what the national team were doing in Argentina which enables players to jump up from one squad to the other.”

Over the three fixtures, the team averaged nearly 60 points a game but McFarland insists that the opposition offered completely different challenges to what the players would be used to:

“Russia wanted to play rugby, were very physical in what they did and had good attacking systems. Uruguay were incredibly passionate, hardworking and physical in defence and while not a big team, they caused us problems in other areas. Romania, who Ireland will face in the World Cup, were extremely big and played a very forward-oriented kicking game. So very different challenges out there for us and I think we dealt with each game comfortably.

“When you look at the first game against Russia, we had scored 66 unanswered points in 45 minutes and in terms of being put under pressure rugby wise, there wasn’t a lot we could learn from that. However, I believe that that result and indeed the other results came as a consequence of the intensity we built around preparation in an extremely short time frame.

McFarland admits he was disappointed that the team leaked a try in the final game with Romania, having prevented opposition from crossing before that:

“The defence was very good and the boys worked hard for each other. The back row put in a particularly good stint across the board. We compared some of the stats with back rows tackling in the 6 nations and set challenges for the players which they worked hard to meet.”

When Tighthead Prop Rodney Ah You received a late call up to the Senior Argentinian tour, it was left to second row Mick Kearney to represent Connacht on the tour along with London Irish bound centre Eoin Griffin. McFarland, who has coached Kearney for the last three seasons at Connacht, felt the 24-year-old put in a performance he should be proud of:

“Mick did really well, particularly for someone who hadn’t been exposed to international rugby at that level before. He had never seen the calling systems or the structures before this tour but he put the head down and was one of the players who didn’t make any mistakes. He worked extremely hard, was very physical in what he did and showed what he does for us week in week out which I thought was terrific.

“I would hope that Mick and all of the players on tour took a lot from the experience. Going into the new season with their provinces, they should feel invigorated. Hopefully their ambitions to play in a 6 Nations or a World Cup with a fantastic Irish team have grown even more.”

After a short break, McFarland is now back at the Sportsground in Galway where the squad are into week three of a demanding 10-week pre-season. He says he is as motivated as ever ahead of the new season with the GUINNESS PRO12 and newly formed Challenge Cup to look forward to:

“The planning and the preparation that goes into pre-season is one element of the year and it is really good fun. The weather is a little bit better and you can try out new things. With new players coming in, you’re trying to integrate them into the systems and also blend any new systems with the current squad. It’s a very busy time. But every year you come in refreshed and full of new determination for the new season. If you work in professional sport, be it as a coach or a player, you have to be able to come in every Monday and be motivated. You have to find success. From winning matches right down to the small things, you’re always looking for the wins. That’s the nature of sport. You want to win at everything you do. “ 

Connacht Rugby kick off the official season with a home game against Newport Gwent Dragons on the weekend of September 5/6/7. Fixture dates and kick off times for the PRO12 are to be confirmed before the end of July.

To secure your place at the Sportsground for all 14 home games in the 2014/15 season, make sure to get your Season Ticket. Click here for more details.


Carty makes history as Connacht tame Lions