As recently installed head coach Neil Doak entered Ulster’s impressive new media facilities following his team’s loss against reigning European kingpins Toulon, flanked by his erudite captain Rory Best, the leaders of Ulster rugby cut fairly disappointed and disconsolate figures. Not that there’s any disgrace in being beaten by last season’s European champions, and favourites for this season’s inaugural Champions Cup.
Disappointed Ulster Look For Silver Lining
The reason the two men looked so downbeat was the realisation that this defeat (their second in succession in the competition) effectively ends their involvement in the business end of this year’s tournament. Barring a mathematical miracle, Ulster’s participation in European rugby’s flagship event will end at the pool stages, with the Belfast side having only accumulated one point from their opening two European fixtures. It’s not what Ulster fans have become accustomed to: the Irish side has progressed to the knockout stages of the competition (or its predecessor to be accurate) for the past four seasons. Doak and Best tried to accentuate the positives of the performance as best they could, but it’s clear that they have a job to do in rallying the troops ahead of the next round of European fixtures.
Head coach Doak lamented ulster’s travails at scrum time, and highlighted the costly concession of ten points on the cusp of half time when Ulster were still very much in the contest. “I thought we’d done really well (in the first period), but we weren’t as accurate as we could have been.” The Lisburn man went on to state that the late barrage of points for Toulon at the end of the first half had left his side with an uphill struggle to compete in the second half. Skipper Best concurred that accuracy had been an issue for the Ravenhill side. “We weren’t as accurate at the breakdown as we could have been. At key moments they (Toulon) were able to get turnovers.”
In searching for a silver lining in his side’s second successive European defeat, the Irish international hooker highlighted the lineout as an area where Ulster were satisfied with their afternoon’s work. “We’ll be happy with that (the lineout)….but we got penalised a bit at scrum time.”
It is clear that Doak has had a tough baptism as head coach, and he will need to restore his side’s morale before the resumption of Pro12 duties next week against the Dragons. In discussing the opening few weeks of his tenure, Doak acknowledged, “The first two games were pretty difficult, but there are four games still to go (in their European pool) “We have got to pick ourselves up… It’s a long season.”
There are still plenty of reasons for optimism, but with this season’s European campaign already effectively at an end, that’s what Ulster fans are afraid of.
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