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'I'm not sure even our best performance would have won. That's the best I've seen Glasgow play this year'

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland admits that his charges were simply defeated by a superior side in their Pro14 semi-final.

The Ulster team gather for a huddle after losing out to Glasgow Warriors.
The Ulster team gather for a huddle after losing out to Glasgow Warriors.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

WHEN THE DISAPPOINTMENT of having their season ended at the penultimate hurdle had subsided, Dan McFarland offered both a compliment of their conquerors and a stark assessment of where his team are at right now.

“We were very disappointed in our performance but, at the same time, having watched that Glasgow performance, I’m not sure even our best performance would have won here,” he shrugged in the media room at Scotstoun Stadium.

That’s the best I’ve seen them play this year and I thought they were really good value for their win – tactically astute, physically on the money and in terms of precision and accuracy, excellent.”

It was a sobering night for Ulster, all the good work and positivity created around the team evaporated in a dismal 60-minute spell that saw them brushed aside by a more fluent, creative and complete outfit in the Glasgow Warriors.

By the time Rory Best, ever the relentless Trojan in white, was hauled adrift for one final time in the jersey of his beloved province, Ulster had been outscored by their hosts five tries to one, and would go on to concede two more after that.

Rory Best after playing his last game for Ulster A dejected Rory Best after the final whistle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

All the pre-match talk of Glasgow potentially being undercooked having not played for three weeks was woefully premature. They were two scores to the good by the 18th minute, and by the time the two sides went in at the interval they had opened up a 21-point gap.

For McFarland, who has been so open and affluent in his praise for his squad this season in terms of where they had been and where they are now – and rightly so – to turn around and say that they didn’t have it in them to beat Glasgow is a big statement.

But it’s one he had no hesitation in making either. It was his opening gambit, and one he wouldn’t back down from either.

I have to be really careful because I don’t want it to sound like had we played well we would have won that game because I’m not sure we would have. I really thought Glasgow were a notch above us,” he repeated.

The final scoreline, 50-20, was a reflection perhaps not on the gulf between these sides – repeated games between these sides wouldn’t consistently produce that scoreline – but rather how clinical Glasgow were on the night.

Given a sniff, they struck. On their first visit to the 22, they crossed. With a sliver of a blindside to work with, Ali Price wriggled over soon after. Trapped in their own 22, a chip kick by Adam Hastings, the gather and pass by Stuart Hogg and the support line by Kyle Steyn added another.

Given a sniff, they were clinical.

Dan McFarland during the warm-up It was a tough night for Dan McFarland's charges. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ulster, by contrast, were far from it. A line-out went astray in a rare and fleeting attacking moment in the first half. Jacob Stockdale knocked on off first phase ball from a scrum early in the second half. Heads dropped and the game was gone.

“We were able to put a little pressure on them but that pressure was insignificant when you consider they broke early and put us on the back foot,” lamented McFarland.

“When that kind of momentum happens with a team as hungry as Glasgow, who are able to put you under that kind of physical pressure, then it’s always going to be difficult.

“This year we’ve had a couple of key games where we’ve fallen behind to those tries early on and then not been able to pick oursleves up off the canvas.”

The stadium announcer greeted Best’s substitution by beginning, “Coming off for the last time at Scotstoun Stadium…”, which in itself is a true statement, yes, but was rather insignificant compared to what his departure from the field really signified.

Fourteen years came to an end in Scotstoun, the cheers of a stadium that had been jeering against him ringing in his ears and the battle-hardened bruises of 63 brutal minutes in a Guinness Pro14 semi-final leaving him incapable to respond in the way he would have wanted to.

It’s not the send-off he deserved, even the Warriors perhaps would admit that, even if they were never willing to lay down and give him it. His send-off was meant to be triumphant, unforgettable, glorious. Instead, you’d imagine that win over Connacht in the quarter-final will become his real send-off.

I’d say pretty clearly he wanted to go out on a win, and probably wanted to play in a game where we played our best rugby and we didn’t do that, that’s the most disappointing thing,” added McFarland.

So that’s it. Season over. Pack up the bandwagon and roll it on down the track until next season.

Despite the result to finish, it’s been a good season on the whole for Ulster and that’s something that nobody can possibly deny. Had they been offered a European quarter-final – especially one in which they acquitted themselves the way they did – and a Pro14 semi-final at the start of the season then they would have snapped both your arms off.

Tommy Seymour scores a try despite Michael Lowry Tommy Seymour reaching over for a try against Ulster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Once the disappointment, frustration and indignation really dissipates and the squad can truly reflect on the season will they realise what they’ve achieved. This is year one of the rebuilding plan that McFarland has in place and they’ve already exceeded expectations and then some.

The young talent introduced are integral squad pieces already. The squad depth in general is much improved. There are new signings coming in that will only reinforce that belief, and the feeling within the squad is markedly improved from 12 months ago.

So, for now, yes they’ll be disappointed. One isolated result, particularly one such as this, will leave scars, but perhaps Ulster will be better off for it. After all, they’ve already gone so close to causing a knockout upset and it wiped them out emotionally, another would have been heartbreaking.

They’ll go off on holiday, some not to return to the squad next season, some returning with steely determination not to feel like they did trudging off the artificial surface in Glasgow last night.

As for McFarland, he leaves disappointed. But he leaves knowing that the job is still only getting started.

“Take it from me, when you stand in the changing room with guys who have that spirit, that determination, I’ve no doubt that we can bridge that gap,” he insists, with a hint of resolve.

Amidst the gloom of a 30-point defeat, you still just can’t help but believe him.

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