McLaughlin content to 'win ugly' as McGahan rues Munster's slow start
THERE were mixed emotions in the Ulster camp following Saturday night's 15-10 Magners League win over champions Munster at Ravenhill.
Victory at home over an under-strength Munster outfit was essential for Ulster to maintain any realistic ambitions of staying in the hunt for the top-four play-offs.
However, while the four points were welcomed by Brian McLaughlin, the coach was not satisfied with the fact his players failed to build on the 15-0 lead they established midway through the first half courtesy of a brace of tries from winger Simon Danielli.
"We had one smashing try from a lineout, one great piece of opportunism from Simon Danielli and a penalty to put us 15-0 up, but we didn't kick on from that which was very, very disappointing," said McLaughlin.
"But the great thing was we hung in there. I'm really pleased that we played ugly and won. Last week, we played exceptionally well against Leinster and got nothing out of it.
"In general our defence was good and certainly we knuckled down in the last 10 minutes under ferocious pressure and came away with the win so from that point of view I'm very, very happy.
"Usually when we don't perform at our optimum level, we lose. It was a step forward for us; it wasn't nice rugby, it was difficult conditions on the hard ground but we stuck at it and we've come away with four points."
Tom Court produced an outstanding performance at loose-head prop; along with tight-head BJ Botha and hookers Nigel Brady and Andy Kyriacou, he helped give the Ulster front-row a pronounced and game-deciding edge in the scrum.
"The scrum was outstanding and I felt that we didn't get exactly what we deserved, but the referee's got to make his call and it's never easy," added McLaughlin.
"There were a couple of times when I thought the free-kicks could have gone either way or the penalties could have been turned around.
"In the last 10-15 minutes we were under pressure and our scrum dug in and put them under pressure, which eventually ended up with us getting out of our own '22'.
"You've got to give credit to Munster for the way they played, the way they put us under pressure in the first half after they were 15-0 down.
"They stuck at it and came back at us, which Munster sides always do; it's never over until the referee blows his whistle. They had a very young team out and I think they can be very proud of their display."
Try-scoring hero Danielli said the win was essential for Ulster's confidence ahead of next week's league meeting with the Ospreys and their two remaining Heineken Cup pool games in mid-January.
"We came into the game not where we wanted to be in the table; obviously we want to be up around the top four so in that regard it was great to get the win," said Danielli.
"We've just beaten Munster but it's not the sort of happy dressing-room that you'd expect, given that we didn't play as well as we should.
"The Heineken's up for grabs and if we win next week, we're back up there at the right end of the Magners table, so it's a big few weeks coming up to be in the right position before the break for the Six Nations."
Meanwhile, Munster coach Tony McGahan was pleased that his under-strength side were able to fight back from 15-0 down and secure a losing bonus point.
"I thought our effort was excellent to come up here against a full-strength Ulster side. Apart from the first 10 minutes when we gave up a couple of soft tries, the effort and application was excellent," said McGahan.
"It's an excellent indication of the depth of the squad. Ulster have an excellent record at home. I thought this was one of the better efforts we have put in up here, over a number of years."
Munster captain Mick O'Driscoll admitted that their scrummaging was a cause for concern.
"If we are honest about it, it is an area we have struggled in slightly this season," he said. "It's an area we have to improve in definitely. We had some very good scrums and some very, very poor scrums. No denying it."