Monday 17 June 2019

Chris Henry: 'No excuses can be made for Glasgow demolition'

Rory Best of Ulster after the Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final match between Glasgow Warriors and Ulster at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker/Sportsfile
Rory Best of Ulster after the Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final match between Glasgow Warriors and Ulster at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ross Parker/Sportsfile

Chris Henry

When a well-oiled machine hits top gear, you can be left feeling a bit like a fly on the wind-shield.

That how I felt about the Heineken Cup final of 2012, going up against Leinster at Twickenham when there were times that the securing of their third star saw them cut through us like a hot chainsaw through butter.

But it's a game that, when I think back on it, there's no regrets because the reality of the situation was so obvious. We were beaten by a much better team who hit top form on the day.

When Dan McFarland spoke on Friday night in Scotstoun, I imagine he was thinking something similar. Having caught Glasgow on a night when they were on song, it's debatable whether even Ulster's best performance would have been good enough to go toe-to-toe with one of the league's undoubted heavyweights.

Thinking back, it wasn't one where you're left ruing missed chances, because there weren't any chances. It wasn't that Ulster didn't fire a shot, Glasgow didn't even let them get the gun out of the holster.

They started the game so well and they maintained their intensity until it was won. The sight of Tommy Seymour rushing in after his pack had secured a key turnover in the game and gesturing "one more, one more and they're gone" was real foot-on-the-throat stuff. Glasgow were relentless and just never let Ulster up off the canvas, never giving them an in to get into the game.

With two weeks to prepare, and recent experience of seeing Glasgow up close, Dan McFarland will have had a gameplan in place but I'd be interested to know just how much of it, if any, his side were able to implement.

Unfortunately, what plagued the province in their April meeting remained problematic. The line-out was a disaster, indeed robbing Ulster of their only real piece of territory in the first-half, while the breakdown did nothing to slow down Glasgow and the pace with which they look to play. Throughout this season it's always looked as if Ulster have learned from their defeats.

Very different teams, but you look at how they played in the Aviva and the gameplan looked tailored towards, not just playing to Ulster's strengths, but negating Leinster's too.

For whatever reason, and Glasgow's level of performance has to be taken into consideration too, Friday night played out exactly as the hosts would have hoped, solutions to what troubled Ulster six weeks ago lacking over the course of the 80 minutes.

To boot, there were new cracks emerging too. Escorting has been a hot topic in the game lately given the success of Saracens and their England contingent. Legally or not, it is something that Glasgow do really well. Ulster's kicking yielded no reward, not a single 50/50 going their way and, with the exception of one penalty awarded for a fairly blatant block on Jacob Stockdale, the Ulster wing must have been frustrated in his efforts.

Given his physical attributes and abilities in the air, he's naturally the dangerman when the ball is up there but he was effectively shepherded out of the chase by tactics that just don't seem to be drawing a referee's attention at the minute.

All that said, when the margin of victory is 30-points, we're talking macro rather than micro issues and fans will have been heartened to hear Bryn Cunningham interviewed after the game and make a point to offer no excuses for the performance, whether it was injuries, referees, or even just the simple fact that he's lost almost a whole pack's worth of forward depth over the course of a season.

Seven tries to three - with Ulster's coming late - told the story of a difference in quality and there was no attempt to sugar-coat the message.

To me that shows there's a determination to get better rather than hope the current trajectory continues.

Conceding 50 points in any game is tough to take, let alone a semi-final, but on the whole this has to be remembered as a season in which expectations were surpassed.

Now it's time to take the next step.

Belfast Telegraph

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