Ulster already down and almost out of Europe

By Des Berry

Ulster operated in a creative wasteland when completely dominated 23-13 by Toulon at an eerily quiet Ravenhill in Pool 3 of the Champions Cup on Saturday.

The ploy of sending runners back into the arms of the Toulon pack played into the groundhog instincts of Steffon Armitage and Chris Masoe.

It simply defied logic. Common sense was not too common a sight.

This was never better illustrated than when Paddy Jackson went for the corner instead of a relatively easy three points as Ulster trailed 6-3 into the wind in the 25th minute.

The fly-half compounded the error by screwing a tentative kick no more than ten metres down the line.

The contrast between the conviction of Jackson and that of Ian Keatley was startling this weekend.

There was also the sight of potential Ireland thirteen Jared Payne getting lost in the translation between minding the outside channel and getting sucked into the losing warfare waged by under-sized Stuart Olding on Mathieu Bastareaud.

The Northern Province was reduced to rubble, replacement Ian Humphreys pushing a late, late penalty left and wide to fail to secure even a losing bonus-point.

The simple deduction was that they were out-muscled, out-sped and out-thought, looking void of ideas on how to break down the French club long before the final whistle.

"The big thing is they have good players and good players, nine times out of ten, make smart decisions," shared Rory Best.

There was a glimmer of comfort from The Scarlets 15-3 eclipse of Leicester, denying The Tigers even the crumb of a losing bonus-point.

Whatever residue of ambition remains with Ulster, they have to execute a home and away double over the Welsh club to harbour any ambition of advancing to the knock-out stages for the fifth consecutive season.

Connacht finally ran out of energy reserves in slumping 33-13 at Exeter Chiefs to trail the English club by one-point after the first two rounds in the Challenge Cup.

This was a complete contrast to the five points gained against La Rochelle as the Devon club produced the four tries that took them to the top of Pool 2.