Thursday 23 May 2019

Best: We were a team who weren't enjoying our rugby

Munster 24 Ulster 24

Ulster’s Tommy Bowe feels the full force of a combined tackle from Munster’s Dan Goggin (left) and Jean Kleyn. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ulster’s Tommy Bowe feels the full force of a combined tackle from Munster’s Dan Goggin (left) and Jean Kleyn. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

At the end of a pulsating 80 minutes at Thomond Park, one side were left feeling like they had won the game, while the other headed back up north wondering what might have been.

Ultimately, the draw ended Ulster's hopes of making the Guinness PRO14 play-offs, although Edinburgh's win later in the evening would have meant that even if they had got the required bonus-point victory, it wouldn't have been enough to leapfrog the Scots.

It has been that kind of a season for Ulster. They will have plenty of regrets about not getting the job done against a second-string Munster team, particularly because they led 24-14 at the break, and had scored three of the four tries that they needed.

Not scoring in the second half summed up their woes this year, even if Rory Best did his utmost to accentuate the positives afterwards.

Stuart McCloskey of Ulster is tackled by Dan Goggin. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Stuart McCloskey of Ulster is tackled by Dan Goggin. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

The reality for Ulster now is that they are likely to face the Ospreys at home in three weeks' time in a Champions Cup qualifier, but they will have to wait for results in the Premiership, Top 14 and European cups to determine their exact fate for next season.

"For me, these last four games have been really, really enjoyable," Best insisted.

"There has been a nice feeling around the place, amongst the players, amongst the staff.

"There has been a real want to go to work and to improve and to be better. A lot of young guys have come in and they breathe a bit of fresh air, and they have youthful exuberance.

"I am nearly twice the age of some of them, which is frightening. They bring that and that has lifted some of the more experienced guys.

"In many ways it has started to lift a bit of the gloom that was around. It's not just the players that say it, it's everyone in the organisation.

Munster's Mike Sherry is tackled by Ulster's Ross Kane, left, and Alan OConnor. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Mike Sherry is tackled by Ulster's Ross Kane, left, and Alan OConnor. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Feeling

"There's just been a bit more of a spring in our step. The results help, but it comes from feeling after a game that you have contributed. That has been the big thing for us."

Best scored two first-half tries, the first time he has managed to do so in his career, to go along with Stuart McCloskey's try, and nine points from the boot of Johnny McPhillips, who impressed from out-half.

"I think probably when you look at the last four games, that Cardiff loss felt like a real low, it felt like we weren't going out to win games, we were going out not to lose them or not make mistakes," the skipper continued.

"We were a team who weren't enjoying our rugby.

"The one thing we've taken from the last four games is that we're going out to try and enjoy our rugby and to try and fire a shot. You're not going to win every moment of the game, but we've tried to win every moment available.

"I think you have to give credit to the management, the staff, the players. It (credit) probably hasn't been given that much over the last four games, but we've dug deep and we wanted to show up and give ourselves a platform.

"It's not something we feared, going into the Challenge Cup, even though it's not ideal. But the thing for me would be, if we drifted and drifted into the Challenge Cup and just kept drifting.

"Wherever we end up, we've done it by firing a shot, and we need to roll our sleeves up for one more effort."

Munster had gotten off to an ideal start with a try through Duncan Williams, and while Brian Scott added another, a yellow card to Robin Copeland proved costly as Ulster scored two tries with the Connacht-bound No 8 in the bin.

Copeland, however, atoned for his yellow card with a second-half try, while JJ Hanrahan maintained his 100pc record from the tee with a 68th-minute penalty to snatch the draw.

Munster will meet Edinburgh in a quarter-final back at Thomond Park on Saturday, and Jaco Taute (knee) is in line to return. Niall Scannell (shoulder) is rated as 50-50, while John Ryan (back) is a major doubt.

Johann van Graan was proud of how his younger players bounced back in the second half, while it also helped ease some of the disappointment of losing to Racing in the Champions Cup semi-final.

"Look, Tuesday morning was difficult," the head coach said.

"I think the brilliant thing about Tuesday morning was that everybody put their hands up - we as a squad and as players and as a coaching staff, of where it could have gone better last weekend and we said, 'Unfortunately, that's the way rugby goes'.

"Peter O'Mahony was fantastic on Tuesday morning. It just shows that if you have a quality leader that leads the squad, obviously I saw the plan for the week, and I said to the guys we needed to provide these guys with quality training.

"That's maybe the encouraging thing. You will always be disappointed in life. We know it's an opportunity that we missed but that's the beauty of rugby - you've always got next week.

Learn

"I can't say it enough, I've only been here for a few months and you really only learn about players and about the squad and about Munster when you get put into pressure situations.

"So I feel we can make a Champions Cup semi-final again in the future and we are in a fortunate position that we've got a PRO14 qualifier next weekend against a quality team that's really played well this whole year.

"You've got to learn every single day of your life and hopefully as a team we've learned a few lessons for next week's play-off game."

Munster - S Fitzgerald; C Nash, S Arnold, D Goggin, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams (J Hart 56); J Cronin, M Sherry (capt) (R Marshall 56), B Scott (S Archer h-t); G Grobler, D O'Shea (J Kleyn 47); D O'Callaghan, C Oliver (J O'Donoghue 47), R Copeland.

Ulster - L Ludik; C Gilroy (T Bowe 69), L Marshall, S McCloskey (A Curtis 29), J Stockdale; J McPhillips, D Shanahan (P Marshall 45); C Black (A Warwick 55), R Best (capt) (R Herring 69), R Kane (T O'Toole 64); A O'Connor, I Henderson (K Treadwell 22); C Ross, S Reidy, N Timoney (C Henry 72).

Ref - B Whitehouse (Wales).

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