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'We could have had a bit more patience' - Ulster's drop-goal regrets

The northern province remain in the Pro12 play-off mix despite defeat in Limerick.

THE LACK OF poise as Ulster built up to their last-gasp drop-goal attempt against Munster was depressingly familiar to many of the province’s loyal supporters.

The exact situation was different to others perhaps, but Ulster’s inability to control the scenario as they needed to has been a regular feature of their game in recent seasons. Their reputation for lacking something mentally lives on after this 22-20 defeat.

Paddy Jackson attempts a late drop goal Jackson hits his late drop-goal attempt. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Rather than taking the drop-goal shot from a central position, Ulster instead shifted play to their left, before Paddy Jackson had a hurried effort from too far out and only just after picking himself up off the turf.

This was a collective failure, and assistant coach Allen Clarke – who will join the Ospreys this summer – expressed Ulster’s regrets afterwards.

“On reflection, for me, we could have had a bit more patience because we weren’t ideally set,” said Clarke. “Our 10 [Jackson] had been involved in the cleanout so maybe we should have worked a few more phases and worked it towards the poles.

We could have put pressure on them because they wouldn’t have wanted to give away a penalty. For us, maybe it summed up where we were in the game because we had good chances and didn’t convert.”

While it’s natural to focus on the endgame, Ulster simple made too many basic errors at Thomond Park on Saturday, with the ball dropped shamefully often.

No player ever wants to knock-on, but there appear to be real dips in concentration levels for Ulster at key times.

However, Clarke felt that the Ulster players were in the right place mentally.

“I thought from a coaching perspective the mentality of our players was bang on,” said Clarke. “There’s a real edge and intensity. We need to couple it with precision, in those key points of the game to put the opposition through more attacking sets, more rucks and not let them score so easily.

Andrew Conway dejected after the game Andrew Trimble leads Ulster off at Thomond Park. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We worked hard for our scores, we made some really good busts. We didn’t convert the way we would have liked at times and that’s frustrating. We had a maul effort that was clearly taken down by the opposition but the referee didn’t call it.

“We haven’t come out on the right side of that but we had enough to win the game today and that’s the frustrating thing.

“You have to credit Munster for that. They see that period of the game out, they find a way. We admire that to a degree but we know that we can win these games. I have faith in the team, I have faith in the boys that we’re going to be in the mix and we might be back here, who knows?”

Indeed, Ulster’s Guinness Pro12 play-off hopes are still alive after the weekend’s action. They remain in fifth position, but are now just a point behind the Ospreys after their defeat to Cardiff Blues on Judgement Day.

Ulster’ next fixture is against the Ospreys in Wales in 29 April, with a home tie against Leinster to follow on 6 May.

“I think the fillip of all of it is that Ospreys were beaten by Cardiff so we’re very much in the mix and probably before we came here we didn’t expect that,” said Clarke.

“What I will say about the performance is there was a lot of commitment, a lot of energy. Physically we were good. We need to nail off our precision on both sides of the ball and we’ll cause sides problems. We’ve got to go to the Ospreys and win.”

Before then, Ulster will have to watch on this weekend as Munster and Leinster compete in the Champions Cup semi-finals against Saracens and Clermont.

Ulster players celebrate the final whistle Ulster beat Clermont in the Champions Cup pool stages. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Clarke will be an interested supporter of the two Irish provinces, but he recognises the scale of the challenges ahead. Ulster did beat Clermont earlier this season in Europe, while Clarke feels Munster’s home advantage will be important.

“They’ve quality squads. Obviously Saracens are a machine come this time of year.

They’ve got class all around, they work hard for one another. They’re very efficient in where they play the game, they’re well organised, they don’t miss tackles, and when they get close to your line they apply pressure and they have game breakers.

“Clermont, they have massive talent. We’ve shown that you can take that on. For Munster, playing them in Ireland it’ll add to the performance, there’s no doubt about that. That’s going to be a huge challenge for Saracens.

“For Leinster the beauty is they’re going to Lyon not Clermont. The French will see that as an away game as much as anything. Leinster have won there in the past. We wish them well.”

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