Best and Jackson combine to tackle James O'Connor. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
broken down

'We couldn't get the ball we wanted': Best laments key turnovers that cost Ulster

Head coach Neil Doak refused to accept that the quarter-finals are now beyond reach.

Originally published 17.05

YOU CAN PICK almost any aspect of this game as a reason Toulon ran out 23 – 13 winners over Ulster, but when a team is on the back foot in the breakdown, there’s nothing quite so suffocating to their chance of victory.

Ulster rallied again and again, forcing their backs into space and trying to find a way around what Rory Best called “a red wall.” Yet once the Heineken Cup champions got them in tight, it rarely felt like anything other than a matter of time before the chance would be lost.

“They did very well at the breakdown,” Best said post-match.

“They turned us over a lot, and they probably turned us over at key moments. We’ll look at it and we’ll not be happy with some of our clean-outs. Maybe some of our targeting; we didn’t quite get him before he could be a threat.

Field day

“With players like that [Masoe and Armitage], if you let them get set, they’re very hard to shift. The breakdown probably turned into a bit of a field day for guys going onto the ball.”

“Against a big internationally experienced pack like that, we knew we had to move them around a bit. And to move them around a bit, you have to get quick ball. It’s something we have been getting a lot of returns from this season. Just today, we couldn’t get the ball we wanted.”

One of the untimely turnovers came after Best had made the decision to decline a penalty well with Paddy Jackson’s range and the chance to level the game at 6 – 6.

Understandably, Best pointed out that conditions down on the pitch can be difficult to grasp when sitting at home or in the in the stand and says he stands by his decision to shift pressure off Jackson and onto his own throwing.

Rory Best 25/10/2014 Darren Kidd / Press Eye Darren Kidd / Press Eye / Press Eye

“It was a tough kick,” said the captain. “The wind was swirling, it’s hard to get a true reflection especially with that far side [of the field].

“It felt, at best, a 50-50 kick if we had gone for the posts. Obviously we’ve a lot of faith in Jacko as a kicker, but I stand by the decision. It was just to take the pressure off him, to go in the corner and keep the squeeze on them.

“Ultimately, we won the line-out, we set the maul, we went round the corner and they turned us over.

“We still feel that maul was illegally sacked for a start. At the same time you live and die by those decisions. We just felt, at that stage of the game, we’d just keep the pressure on them.”

Even after that turnover, Ulster looked capable of putting points on the board at 6 – 3. Unfortunately, the Top14 giants showed their class and added timely scores to the timely turnovers that sucked the life out of the hosts.

Digging in

Defeat leaves Ulster with one point from meetings against their main pool rivals and a mountain to climb. Head coach Neil Doak refused to accept defeat in his task of escaping the pool, however. The new man at the helm pointed at an unlikely, but mathematically still possible, total of 21 points that could still be reached to put them in contention.

“Obviously the first two games have been pretty difficult. But there’s four games still to go and potential to pick up 20 points,” he said.

“We’ve got to go away to Toulon, so we know that’s going to be a pretty tough ask.

“That’s why it was a little disappointing that we didn’t come out better last week, but look it’s a long season. We’’ll keep digging in. We’re back to league next Saturday, the boys are away off to Ireland and we wish them well.

“We’ll pick ourselves up, have a good week’s training and head into the Dragons.”

Armitage credits Toulon pack after impressive Champions Cup win over Ulster

5 talking points after Toulon send Ulster tumbling

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