Ulster now must face fact dream is finished
Published 08/03/2010 | 11:35
Play-offs are mission impossible
FACT: you cannot expect to win professional rugby matches if for 20 of the 80 minutes you are playing with 14 men.
Fact: you cannot continue to alienate a referee -- already well known to you for his interpretation of the laws, in particular with regard to what is and is not legal in rucking and mauling -- by repeatedly failing to listen to what he is telling you.
Fact: if you are required to counter-attack, you cannot fumble and misfield a succession of high balls.
Fact: at this level you cannot allow your defensive concentration to lapse.
Fact: where you are playing catch-up, you cannot squander chances as a result of sloppy passing by the carrier and/or bad positioning by the would-be receiver.
On Friday night at Parc y Scarlets, Ulster were guilty of all of those things. As a result, their already-faint hopes of qualifying for the Magners League play-offs by virtue of a top four finish are all but gone.
Mathematically it is still possible but in reality it isn't going to happen.
Loose head prop Tom Court was wholly honest in his assessment when he said: "We didn't help ourselves with the referee."
No disputing the factual accuracy of that observation.
Then having trailed 15-0, Ulster appeared to have hauled themselves right back into contention via an Ian Humphreys penalty and a Paddy Wallace try either side of half-time.
But when, with Ulster having just closed to within seven points of parity, persistent offender David Pollock promptly managed to get himself yellow-carded for hands in a ruck, that marked the beginning of the end.
Scarlets' stand-off Rhys Priestland added salt to that particular wound by kicking the resultant penalty to open up a 10-point lead.
And at the start of the final quarter it was Priestland who, in scoring the hosts' third try, went past Ed O'Donoghue and inside Jamie Smith and Andrew Trimble like they didn't exist.
Just as his half-back partner, Tavis Knoyle, had seen off Dan Tuohy for the Scarlets' second try at the end of the first quarter.
Court suggested: "With us having had the same referee (Peter Allen) two weeks ago against the Dragons, he might have assumed that we'd know what he was looking for.
"He probably reckoned we ought to have known what he would penalise and what his hot spots were going to be. So I think it's fair to say that we didn't help ourselves with him."
But the Irish-qualified Australian prop did not lay the blame for Friday night's defeat at the door of the referee.
"We made too many mistakes," he admitted. "After our try at the start of the second half we never got any momentum going. We were never able to put them under any real pressure in their 22.
"They kept kicking the ball long to force us back and on the night, for whatever reason, we couldn't catch it.
"If you aren't doing that when they kick it at you, it's very difficult to counter-attack.
"At half-time we felt that provided we stayed relaxed and patient it would be fine and that we'd manage to turn it round. There was no panic.
"But we weren't able to settle into a rhythm in the second half. We kept making mistakes and we kept conceding penalties which made it impossible for us to put them under pressure and keep them there.
"Not a good night."
Source: Belfast Telegraph