A clearly hurt Anscombe described Saturday’s semi-final defeat at the RDS as “right up there” in terms of disappointment.
“It was one of the ones that got away,” he said. “We were in control, nine points clear and had them under pressure. But then it was just the little things. When they started putting a bit of pressure on us we didn’t keep our composure. We made some poor decisions, we had opportunities but didn’t finish them off.”
Leinster’s ability to take a scoring chance late in the game taught Ulster another big lesson. On this occasion it was in the art of opportunism with Ian Madigan providing the lesson through a late try which proved the difference.
This was the sides’ third meeting this year, all of which went Leinster’s way to deepen the scars built up over years of losing high-profile games to their southern opposition.
While this one was close, it was scant consolation that Anscombe’s side proved highly competitive even if there were some encouraging signs for the future.
“For 70 minutes we had control of that game but they didn’t let us get away from them and they backed themselves. They knew if they put the pressure on us we might give away some penalties. Beating them is most certainly a threshold we have to cross. I don’t want to use it as an excuse and say here we have learned, because that has been repeated three or four times.
“The fact is we have not taken these chances and we need to find out why. I think there is a couple of things in our game we need to address and need to do better next year because I know the character of the group. If you look at where we’ve been and where we’ve played and the results we have got it shows there is great character in the side. What we’ve got to do is balance that character with clarity in what we do and not rely on one or two people making decisions or being the ones that create the organisation.
“My overriding emotion is of disappointment because quite easily we could be in a final now. It was just one or two little things. We did enough there to win that game, it’s not being smart enough or cute enough to finish off an opportunity and then losing discipline at crucial times, it’s those little things and that is what hurts.”
Ulster held sway in the early stages and took the lead after eight minutes with a simple tap over penalty from Paddy Jackson, five minutes after Ruan Pienaar had missed a long range attempt.
The best try-scoring chance came from Leinster though, with brothers Rob and Dave Kearney splitting the Ulster defence open for the first time with winger McFadden losing possession at the last moment as he drove for the line.
It was always a close fought game in that opening half. Leinster had to defend after Gordon D’Arcy was yellow carded for a body check on Tommy Bowe but, while the try line stayed secure, they conceded two penalties for Jackson to slot over and make it 9-0 in the opening minutes of the second-half.
Leinster pulled back three points with a 57th minute penalty from Jimmy Gopperth and from there it was all to play for. Even with Brian O’Driscoll off the pitch – the victim of a head injury after 50 minutes – Leinster stepped up the pace and Gopperth kicked a second penalty in 62 minutes.
Leinster called upon all their defensive resources to hold Ulster out in the immediate aftermath of that score, but they did so excellently and went on to score the crucial try when Gopperth sent substitute Madigan away.
LEINSTER: R Kearney F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney, J Gopperth, E Reddan, C Healy, S Cronin, M Moore, D Toner, Q Roux, R Ruddock, J Heaslip (capt), S Jennings.
Replacements: I Madigan for O’Driscoll (inj, 50), L Cullen for Roux (53), M Ross for Moore, S O’Brien for Ruddock (both 55), J McGrath for Healy (64), Z Kirchner for McFadden (injured 66), L McGrath for D Kearney (injured, 69), A Dundon for Cronin (78).
ULSTER: C Gilroy, T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, A Trimble, P Jackson, R Pienaar, C Black, R Best, R Lutton, J Muller (capt), I Henderson, R Diack, R Wilson, C Henry.
Replacements: J McKinney for Jackson (inj. 56), D Tuohy for Diack (58), A Warwick for Lutton (60), S Doyle for Henry (68), L Marshall for Cave (72).
Referee: L Hodges (Wales)