Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss doesn’t believe the failure of the Irish sides to make the last eight of the Champions Cup represents a backward step for the provinces.
Though Connacht progressed to the quarter-finals in the Challenge Cup, this will be the first time in 17 years that Ireland are not represented in the top tier of European club rugby.
And Kiss insists the changed landscape is due to external, and not internal forces.
“It’s honestly more to do, I think, with the resources some of the English clubs have, and the depth in quality.
“Certainly in Ulster we are targeting the quarter-finals at least next season.
“We have a generation of fans, players and sponsors who rightly want that level of involvement.”
After trouncing Oyonnax in their final pool match, the Ulster men were left to wait on other results to see if they would squeeze into the quarter-finals as one of the best runners-up.
But Stade Francais proved too strong for Leicester, who had already guaranteed their place as Pool 4 winners with five wins from five before yesterday.
“First of all I’m very proud of the guys for the way they approached the game with Oyannox; they were truly outstanding ,” he said when he learned Stade Francais’s win over Leicester edged Ulster out of the eight quarter-finalists.
“I honestly think we should, and could, have got something out of the games against Saracens. We played well, particularly in London last week, and if we had got a point of some sort it might have been the difference.
“But against Saracens and Toulouse, arguably the best teams in Europe, we played some great rugby, and we will have learned that the really top sides you have to play for eighty minutes.
“We’ll use what’s been a good campaign, where we were in the hunt to the very last day, as a base for the rest of the season, particularly the next six Pro 12 matches when we have players with Ireland, and have a few out with injury.”
Munster finished their campaign with a bonus-point triumph away to Treviso (28-5). But the province’s 150th top-level European fixture meant little with Anthony Foley’s side out of contention of the knockout stages.
Foley admitted the lack of ruthlessness on the road cost his side dearly as they failed to extend their European adventures beyond January for the second successive season.
“We made a rod for our own backs,” Foley said. “You look at the results today, we definitely needed to get a result at home to Leicester, we all know that, but then you need to be more ruthless away from home to make sure you get something out of those games. It’s not realistic to think you’re going to win every game in the competition.
“We understand that but it’s very disappointing, some of our performances in the earlier stages of the competition.”
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