Anscombe 'jolted' by attitude as Ulster take foot off the pedal
Cardiff Blues 28 Ulster 23
Mark Anscombe admits Ulster have been left with more questions than answers ahead of their Heineken Cup clash with Saracens.
Ulster's head coach saw his side suffer an untimely loss of form against one of the struggling teams of this season's Pro12 on the eve of their European quarter-final.
Trailing 22-5 at half-time against Cardiff Blues, Ulster at least recovered with a second-half comeback, and came within a kick and a disallowed try of completing it, but Anscombe is well aware they cannot afford a repeat performance from the Arms Park at Ravenhill this weekend.
While Cardiff were dogged and passionate, they had none of the brute force Saracens will provide.
"Right now, it feels like the glass is half empty rather than half full. That was a good team we had out there and we should be better than giving away points like that," said Anscombe.
"Yes, the team responded and bounced back into the game but good teams don't need that as a motivation.
"We had nine players out there with more than 100 games for the union. That's a lot of experience on the pitch and I would have liked to think we didn't need a kick up the backside. I thought we were above that. That attitude should be there from the start.
"There's a lot of hard work to be done this week. But we were the only team to qualify from the pool stage unbeaten so there's plenty to get excited about."
Ulster fell into the trap of believing their own hype while forgetting that a team hurting is a dangerous beast.
Cardiff had managed just one win from their previous nine but the public and private chastising received following the capitulation at rivals Ospreys last weekend, as well as the return of captain Matthew Rees from testicular cancer, proved a powerful motivation.
Yet when Darren Cave breezed through inside three minutes and Tommy Bowe almost set up a second moments later, Ulster could be forgiven for expecting an easier ride.
Anscombe said: "What has jolted me was the attitude. I've never questioned the playing ability of the team and I'm still confident in how well we can play.
"But we took our foot off the pedal and you can't do that in this competition.
"That result is what happens when you underestimate any side and that's perhaps what happened, especially after we scored a pretty easy try so early on."
The biggest positive for Ulster was a clean bill of health from the trip to the Welsh capital. Stephen Ferris was given 45 minutes while captain Johann Muller was hauled off early to protect his sore calf, and that enabled Iain Henderson to get some game-time. The only thing bruised, quipped Anscombe, was their pride.
Seven penalties from the boot of Cardiff fly-half Gareth Davies told its own story and Dan Tuohy was binned.
Paddy Jackson responded with six second-half penalties but Andrew Trimble knocked on, Luke Marshall was denied on the line and Tommy Bowe blew a golden chance with a wild pass.
Anscombe said: "We scored early but failed to build on it and then our indiscipline really let us down in the first half, we gave away too many penalties and they got on a roll with 19 points in 15 minutes just before half-time.
"I'm pleased with the way we brought it around in the second half and Luke (Marshall) is pretty sure he got the ball down when his try was disallowed but it was hard to tell from the video."
Cardiff Blues – D Fish; A Cuthbert, C Allen, I Tuifua (G Evans, 75), C Czekaj; G Davies, L Jones (L Williams, 71); G Jenkins (capt), K Dacey (M Rees, 57), T Filise, L Reed (J Down, 70), F Paulo, M Cook (E Jenkins, 75), R Copeland, J Navidi.
Ulster – J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, L Marshall, A Trimble; P Jackson, M Heaney (P Marshall, 57); T Court (A Warwick, 67), R Herring (N Annett, 70), J Afoa, J Muller (capt, I Henderson, 57), D Tuohy, S Ferris (R Diack, h-t), N Williams, C Henry.
Ref – M Mitrea (Italy)