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Ulster left deflated and rueing missed chances before Leinster hit high gears

A tight first half could have been tighter if Ulster had made the most of their penalty chances.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ULSTER HEAD COACH Dan McFarland was left to rue missed chances amidst suffocating Leinster pressure after Ulster fell to a 27-5 Pro14 final defeat at the Aviva Stadium.

The northern province took the lead on Lansdowne Road, but for the second week running Leinster were utterly unperturbed by the early setback and held their opponents scoreless for the remainder of the game.

With the first-half seeing Ulster enter the changing rooms 10-5 down, McFarland had already been irked by chances not taken. Perhaps most notably the kickable penalties that Billy Burns sent to touch.

“We felt our line-out was going well. We wanted to get stuck into them,” said captain Iain Henderson after emerging from a dressing room full of deflated players.

“In hindsight, going for three points to clsoe that gap might have been the better shout.”

On his first game back in action after hip surgery, Henderson struggled to sum up the emotional weight of the loss, saying, “anything you can imagine, we’re probably feeling.”

The beginning of the second half really took the match well away from Ulster. An early Ross Byrne penalty gave the hosts a two-score cushion before Burns’ poor pass was picked off by Robbie Henshaw, who had more than enough speed endurance to win the 40 metre spring to the posts.

“Bitterly disappointed,” said McFarland, “I felt we didn’t play as well as we can do. But to be fair, the longer I take  I realise we did do a lot of good stuff. Everything’s got to be put into the context of  the opposition.

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“It’s really disappointing, but the longer I sit here the more proud I am.”

There in-lies the quandary for Leinster’s rivals. They can put together a gameplan, hit their straps and get a lot of the execution right, but the suffocating pressure of Stuart Lancaster’s defence continually takes a toll and forces errors from even the most clinical opponents.

“Leinster are getting better and better,” said Henderson, “Leinster didn’t peak five years ago and just maintain.  They’ve showed all season, and tonight, they’re the dominant force in this league.”

Ulster will have to quickly turn their attentions towards next weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final away to Toulouse. And that is the beacon ahead that Henderson is pointing his squad towards.

“We’ve got another shot at a knockout game. I asked the guys in there, ‘how many more weeks of knockout rugby do you want to play in? One, two or three?’

“I’ve no doubt in my mind that come Monday morning guys will be ready to go.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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