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Van der Merwe's heroics silence the Twickenham masses

A try for the ages lights up a thrilling opening weekend of Six Nations rugby as Scotland, Ireland and France register away wins

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Ulster boss Dan McFarland relishing shot at old foes

By Ian Cameron
Ulster No.8 Duane Vermeulen - PA

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland was thrilled as his side ended their losing run to book a place in the Champions Cup last-16 by beating Sale at Kingspan Stadium.

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Having lost their last three matches, as well as six of seven, in all competitions, this first victory of their European campaign was enough to scrape through from Pool B after tries from Rob Lyttle, Rob Herring and Duane Vermeulen helped them to a 22-11 victory.

Barring a huge loss by Montpellier at home to London Irish today, they will go through as eighth seeds and meet Irish rivals Leinster in the knock-out stages.

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“That’s the goal, you want to play in the play-off games and we’ve done it again,” McFarland said after advancing from the pools for a fourth time in his five seasons in charge. “I think our reward is a trip to Leinster.

“I quite fancy Leinster, challenge yourself against the best.

“We came out, we wanted to put on a performance at home, in front of our fans, in our house, and I thought the crowd was electric tonight, the atmosphere was brilliant.

“I think a chunk of that was to do with how we played. I thought we were excellent on both sides of the ball. It wasn’t perfect obviously but Sale are a really good team, they don’t let many tries in.

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“I thought across the board we had some fantastic performances.”

Sale coach Alex Sanderson had no complaints with the result, praising Ulster for seizing control in the second half.

“It’s not that tough to stomach actually,” he said. “Given the momentum shift in the second half I think Ulster thoroughly deserved it.

“They had us in the set-piece and they won most of the collisions and when you have those two things as feathers in your cap and you’re in the opposition half for 30-35 minutes, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion.

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“I’ve accepted that for what it is. Brilliant by them and we need to improve on certain aspects of our game that are our bread and butter.”

Second in the Premiership, Sale will quickly turn their attention back to domestic matters.

“We’re going well there,” Sanderson added. “That’s always the way, it’s the hamster wheel and you’ve got to get back on it.

“We’ll get back into the Prem next week with Bath at home.

“The Challenge Cup is still something we’ll focus on because of the exposure it brings young lads, and there were a lot of young lads out there tonight.

“They’ll be all the better for that, coming here and understanding what it’s about at this level.”

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