McFarland has been a coach since his retirement from playing in 2006. He took an assistant coaching role with his club, Connacht Rugby, upon hanging up his boots at the west of Ireland club. His first stint in Ireland came to a close when he joined Gregor Townsend’s coaching staff at the Glasgow Warriors in 2015 and he later joined Townsend’s coaching ticket when he took the reins of the Scotland men’s national team in 2017. Ulster came calling and McFarland took his first senior head coaching position with Ulster in April 2018.

He is a firm believer in the need to identify a “lodestone” – a foundation – when effecting change. In explanation he retells the story of his initial trek back across the Irish Sea from Connacht to Glasgow. “I was looking for change, but I needed something I was already strong in, something that was relevant to me, something that was going to hold the continuity from one place to the next; bridging that gap of change. For me, it was personal development and that needed to bridge the change of place, environment, and people I was working with. I needed that continuity and that was also part of the change.”

Continuity, as McFarland argues, is essential for players and staff. “The idea of flipping everything on its head, to me, is not great, unless you want something totally new, in which case it doesn’t come under the term ‘change’. When I arrived in Ulster, they were looking for change but I also recognised the things that were going well at the time. ‘What are the things that work here? What things are important? They might not be visible at the time, but that lodestone is generally always there; and if you can attach yourself to that and use that as a foundation, then it’s much easier to gain buy-in from the people who supply the continuity.

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