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'We put a hell of a lot of effort into that game - the sheer amount of defence we did cost us'

Ulster fell to a late 17-16 Pro14 defeat to Edinburgh on Friday night at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes.
Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

HEAD COACH JONO Gibbes said he can’t fault the effort of his Ulster players, but that the amount of defending they had to do cost them in their 17-16 defeat to Edinburgh.

The Ulstermen made 196 tackles in the game at Kingspan Stadium as a stellar rearguard effort nearly saw them home only for Duncan Weir’s last play drop goal to hand the visitors the victory they deserved for their dominance.

It’s a loss that sees the two sides swap positions in Conference B despite now being on the same points tally, Edinburgh moving up to the final play-off and Champions Cup spot having won one more game than the Irish province.

With just six games left, one away to the same opponents and only two of which are at home, for Ulster to work their way back into the top three, the pressure is very much on Gibbes’ side to start producing results.

But the Kiwi coach says he didn’t think the attitude was wrong with his side, simply the volume of tackles they had to make eventually took its toll.

“We put a hell of a lot of effort into that game, and the sheer amount of defence we did ultimately cost us,” he lamented.

Stuart McCloskey Stuart McCloskey holds off Edinburgh's Chris Dean. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

“But the game being won on the last action was probably a reflection of how much energy we did put into our (defence) to stay in it, because they managed a few things better than us. Exits for us was really the difference.

“They got more and more attack at us, and we worked bloody hard on (defence) and you can’t question that. I thought Stu and Luke Marshall in particular put in huge shifts, it was just the sheer amount of defence we had to do that gave them their chance and they were clinical enough to create that drop goal.”

Not only has it harmed Ulster’s position in the table, but the coaching ticket are now having to deal with more injuries after winger Craig Gilroy and fly-half Johnny McPhillips both withdrew hurt in the first half.

It was unfortunate for both, who were showing good form after last week, and McPhillips’ injury in particular forced a reshuffle in the back line that seemed to affect the defensive shape momentarily.

But ultimately Gibbes’ side are now on the outside looking in when it comes to the play-off spots, and with a trip to defending champions Scarlets looming next week the tough asks just keep coming.

“Everyone knew what was at stake tonight and that’s why the changing room is devastated,” Gibbes admitted. “You can’t fault the attitude of the guys, I didn’t stand there in front of them after the game and say we have to question our desire here, not at all.

Edinburgh celebrate Duncan Weir's winning drop goal Edinburgh celebrate Duncan Weir's winning drop goal on Friday. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

“We put a hell of a lot into that game, the players did, there are just a couple of things that are going to be really tough to go back through, but a few things need to be done well consistently. Obviously the reshuffle at the halves wasn’t ideal, but exiting hurt us.

“Look, that’s what it is. We’ve got ourselves in a position, we knew it was going to be tight anyway, even if the result had gone our way tonight, Edinburgh have improved a hell of a lot and were going to keep fighting, and we know the quality of Scarlets and Leinster ahead of us.

“It’s going to be really really tight and it’s just gotten a hell of a lot tighter for us.”

It’s not the ideal end to a week that was dominated by rumours of a potential departure to join his good friend Michael Cheika with the Wallabies as a scrum coach at the end of the season.

However, while he didn’t fully deny the link with the job, Gibbes did offer his thoughts on the rumour that was doing the rounds in the build up to the game.

“I, personally knowing Michael (Cheika), he’s doing a couple of tactics I think,” Gibbes surmises. “He’s either trying to sniff out something in his own organisation to see who’s leaking things, or he’s putting out a complete smokescreen or something.

“I can only speak for myself, that’s not for me to dismiss Laurie or Nick. That’s what I assume.”

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