Errors cost us, but we're still in hunt for top six
Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30
It was always going to be a big challenge for us against a quality side like Ulster last weekend - that was probably the best XV they had picked all year - but I thought we acquitted ourselves well despite the defeat.
We had a few hiccups before kick-off. Firstly our starting out-half Craig Ronaldson pulled up in the warm-up, which was a bit of a setback as he obviously did the vast majority of the repetitions as well as the driving of the game-plan in training throughout the week.
Then on top of that I was down on the pitch finishing off my interview with Sky Sports and I noticed that Ulster were on the wrong side of the pitch.
We had won the coin toss but the touch-judge had misunderstood our desire to play into the wind for the first half. Luckily I was there to explain that to Nigel Owens and it was cleared up. A very eventful prelude to the game!
In that opening half we had a few lapses in concentration and Ulster struck, which was disappointing as we had said all week that a good team like that will hurt us if we give them the opportunity.
After our first lapse and going down 5-0 we had about 25 minutes of solid play into a strong wind. We knew if we could get to half time at 5-0 we had a good chance.
Unfortunately, some lapses in concentration and two defensive errors let them in for two soft tries just before the break, which was a killer blow.
At half-time we said the only way we were going to get back into this game was through implementing our structures and using teamwork to our advantage. We needed territory and possession to apply pressure by attacking the edges of their defence line.
The pleasing thing was that we had an opportunity with a rolling maul in the first minute but that came to a halt, and not long after that Matt Healy scored a great try to get us back in the game.
But the errors kept creeping back into our game, but again you have to credit the guys for the way they never gave in and we got ourselves back into the position where at 27-20 with about nine minutes to go we had a chance to win it, and we should have.
The chance in the 73rd minute summed up our day. We defended for 14 phases in our own 22, turned the ball over brilliantly and almost scored one of the tries of the season up the other end but dropped the ball at the key moment.
But even with that defeat the progression is there for everyone to see - as recent as last year we got hammered by Ulster twice.
This season we went up to Kingspan Stadium and got a bonus point, losing 13-10, and we got similarly close again last weekend.
The gap is certainly closing, and we have a much younger group of guys who are playing under a lot of pressure.
We will be better for the experience of playing these types of games - that is how we are going to continue to grow as a team.
And despite losing an inter-provincial derby we still got a bonus point out of it and we finished Round 19 still in sixth place.
It's all systems go towards the big one against league leaders Glasgow next time out and that is going to be a real tester against a side that has been one of the most consistent teams in the league over recent seasons.
So with no game this weekend, we have more time to prepare for what is going to be an absolutely crucial fixture back at the Sportsground in two weeks' time.
It's vital that the players recover and prepare properly ahead of this final block and it was nice to have a bit of a team bonding session in Galway Bay Golf Club on Wednesday.
The food was great and we are so thankful to the staff for putting us up and allowing us to use the magnificent facilities they have out there in Renville.
Days like that are great and help to do something different as a group within our community.
All players and management were divided into four-ball teams and it was great to see the competitive nature continue even away from rugby.
The end of the Pro12 is nearly upon us now and we are in an exciting position - one we've never been in before. This run in is going to go right down to the wire and we are delighted to still be in the hunt with just three games to go.