The RaboDirect Pro12 campaign still has five months to run but Ulster coach Mark Anscombe described next Friday’s visit of Munster to Ravenhill as a must-win for his side.
Saturday’s loss to Leinster in Dublin leaves the northern province ten points adrift of Rob Penney’s men in the table and outside the play-off places by virtue of a worse points difference than Glasgow.
Hardly time to push the panic button then but the Kiwi was straight up when it was put to him that they can ill-afford a second consecutive interpro loss, given another defeat this week would leave them 14 points behind.
“I think that’s pretty obvious, yeah. We can’t afford to lose next week, it’s as simple as that.”
Points and positions won’t be the only considerations for Ulster after a performance which Anscombe described as “bloody disappointing”. His players, he said, were still tuned in to the Christmas spirit instead of the matter at hand.
“You can come here and come away disappointed but it’s how disappointed. You come here and expect to lose at times because they’re a quality team. You can handle defeat but it’s the way that you are beaten that is sometimes disappointing and I thought we were pretty poor.
“It’s the festive season and you’d like to think derby games are important to the players but you wouldn’t have thought that was too important to the players tonight.”
So scathing was he of his troops he declined the get-out clause that was the absence of so many key players, pointing instead to the depletion in Leinster’s ranks and that it seemed to do them less harm.
Captain for the night, Robbie Diack, was similarly blunt, refusing to blame referee John Lacey for his interpretation of events at the breakdown which saw Ulster tread warily after Sean Doyle’s yellow having chanced their arm up to that.
The only plus point Ansconbe could find on the night was his side’s defence, which restricted Leinster to just one try despite repeated incursions into their 22, but this was more about dissecting the many shortfalls in their game.
“I thought we were lethargic, we lacked energy, we lacked purpose. I don’t think we had we had the ball in the first-half. That happens in a game, it goes five minutes, ten minutes, 15. If you got some attitude about you and you want to compete, you’ll get some ball.
“You don’t get 40 minutes without the ball and be content with that. And we were. I take my hat off to them. They came here with intent and purpose and we didn’t match that. We were bloody disappointing.”
Stout Leinster defending at the death denied Ulster the consolation of a losing bonus point but there was at least some solace in the suggestion that Luke Marshall’s early exit was prompted by no more than a dead leg.
Whether he makes the game this Friday is another matter. Anscombe suggested some of Ulster’s wounded would be back for Friday but what impact the IRFU’s player protection protocols have on his resources remains to be seen.
Whatever the personnel, a rebound is expected. Demanded, even.
“Any coach, when you get a performance like that, you hope it doesn’t repeat itself. You’ve got to get back on the horse. The fact is in my time here in a year and a half there are maybe one and one other that have been like that. That’s in 45 or 46 games, that sometimes happens.
“I’m sure Matt [O’Connor] was pretty disappointed over in Edinburgh but that wasn’t the same Leinster team out there [on Saturday]. You turn things around if you have the guys who accept the responsibility and work needs to be done and you go about doing that.
“I’ve had some great results with the personnel we have in this team. Some of them are hurting but you want them to be hurt because they let themselves down. You’ve got to get back up and show what we’re about.”
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