ONE POINT REQUIRED. One man sent off. One point hard earned.
Job done, you would think, but Ulster coach Mark Anscombe is pretty much sick of the heroic effort, valiant defeat storyline.
Medals, rather than moral victories are his currency and he’s determined to deliver a payload to underline the good work he’s done in the northern province.
“The one thing we know about our group is that we’ve got character within our squad,” the Kiwi said after last night’s 20 – 22 defeat of his 14 men.
“We’re very proud. After all of what happened we fought through and came out with a bonus point and I’ll take that with 14 men against Leinster any time.
“It’s got us the playoffs, but we’ve got to fix things if we’re going to progress in the playoffs.”
That snag list includes a lack of discipline and a worrying lack of efficiency and consistency when clearing out the ruck. With qualification secured now, Ulster will be planning for a (likely) trip to the RDS for a re-match with Leinster. Next weekend’s tie in Thomond Park looks like it will come too early for Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Ruan Pienaar and John Afoa, but it will be just in time for the northern province to put their good habits back in place.
The example made by Anscombe is Paddy Jackson. The out-half won the home-tilted man-of-the-match award and also overshadowed his opposite number and rival for an international jersey.
However, rather than accept an invitation to wax lyrical about Jackson’s maturity and class in a difficult situation, he proceeded to take the golden boy apart. A joke that Jackson had cost Ulster two points by successfully touching down his try rather than claim for a penalty try was a playful dig. Later, though, there wasn’t so much as a hint of a grin.
“He didn’t find touch with a couple of penalties that he should have. They’re the little details you need because they take pressure off. When you get a penalty and you work hard for it, you’ve got to nail it. You’ve got to put them down and be consistent in what we do. They’re the little details time and time again we’ve got to get right.”
And that’s when the constructive criticism turned to tough love.
“Penalties should be put to touch, that should be a given. Not hoped, a given. Paddy didn’t do that twice today which is not good enough, but he did a lot of good things today.”
You get the sense that Anscombe is very much in knockout rugby mode now and the criticism feels like an effort to force Jackson into redouble his efforts while he is at the top of his game. The Kiwi was turned his focus on Leinster and is more than happy to talk up the team who will probably host their upcoming Pro12 semi-final.
“It’s very easy to get fooled into thinking ‘we were a man down and if we’d have played with 15 we’d get a ride’. But they’re leading this competition not through luck. Not only do they have internationals in most positions, they’ve got internationals on the bench in most positions.”
And up against that sort of calibre, away from home, in a semi-final where a commendable defeat just won’t cut it; Ulster just can’t afford the kind of errors and inconsistent ruck work delivered last night.
“We have many times shown the characteristics of the individual. What we’ve got to show is that we’ve got the smarts in our decision making and accuracy in our game to compliment that.
“If we get the three things together, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”