Belfast Telegraph

Iain Henderson puzzled by Ulster's Euro failure

By Jonathan Bradley

Iain Henderson was again left searching for answers after another Ulster European season ended with a whimper.

Having made the last eight of the competition for four straight seasons between 2011 and 2014, the province's loss to Exeter last night means they now have virtually no hope of making it back to the quarter-finals for a first time in three years.

While Henderson himself is one who has performed consistently well throughout this failing Champions Cup campaign, it was a familiar complaint from the Irish international following the defeat in Sandy Park.

Again, Les Kiss's men simply did not make the most of their opportunities.

A sparkling attacking display from Charles Piutau was wasted as, although the visitors ran in three tries, multiple opportunities for more went begging in the 31-19 defeat.

"We need to be more clinical," he lamented, not for the first time this year.

"Offloads, carries, line-breaks, metres made, we did well in all of them.

"But that doesn't win games as you can see.

"We need to go back and take a big, hard look at ourselves. Reassess what we're doing in training, reassess what we're doing as players, before we get in the mindset to become a great team."

With such talented players producing such underwhelming results - Ulster have lost eight of 12 after a five-win start - it is natural to assume confidence is lacking in the camp but Henderson disagrees.

"You can say it's a confidence thing but we're making those opportunities," he said.

"Stuart McCloskey is making line breaks, Charles Piutau is making line breaks, the forwards are making opportunities.

"We're making them and we have the confidence to do that. We're doing the hard stuff.

"We've done all those things to get to that point, we just have to make sure the players have the mental will power and know how to finish those opportunities."

Rob Baxter's side created plenty of openings themselves, with their set-piece a large part of their arsenal and physical number 8 Thomas Waldrom scoring two tries.

Henderson did not, however, think the forward battle was the defining feature of the game.

"I don't think it's fair to say we were dominated," he reflected.

"I think our maul defence was great, especially with how many maul tries they score, and we did well to nullify their threats.

"We scored first phase off one of our mauls too and had a few others moving. I thought the boys fronted up well.

There were, however, two victorious Ulsterman on the night, Gareth Steenson and Ian Whitten both playing their part for the Devon outfit.

Steenson, who never made a senior appearance for Ulster but was a classmate of Tommy Bowe at Royal School Armagh before taking his place in the Academy, said giving Exeter's fans a performance to savour was a huge motivation.

In the reverse fixture back in October, last season's beaten Premiership finalists were going through a rough patch but have now gotten back on track.

And while they only have the slimmest chance of European progression, Steenson is happy his side are once again heading in the right direction.

"I think we're in a different place to what we were when we played them at the Kingspan," he said.

"We've had a good run of results and we want to keep that momentum going.

"We talked a lot about how we hadn't won a game at home in the Champions Cup (yet) and that was a big motivation for us.

"We wanted to give our supporters something to cheer."

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