Heineken Cup: McLaughlin has faith in his men to hit back
In the wake of their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Northampton Saints on Sunday afternoon one thing that stood out as brightly as the sunshine in which that absorbing battle was played out was the fact that rather than having been diminished, Ulster’s self-belief now has increased.
Although bitterly disappointed to have lost, in their post-match assessment of what had happened at stadium:mk neither coach Brian McLaughlin nor captain Rory Best revealed anything other than total faith.
Beaten but unbowed McLaughlin vowed to build on the experience Ulster have gained as a result of Sunday’s 23-13 defeat. “Ulster will bounce back” was his promise.
The coach is confident that he, his coaching staff colleagues and the players will gain much from their run to the last eight, the first time since 1999 that Ulster had progressed beyond the group stage in European club rugby’s premier competition.
That was one of two pre-season goals and, to their credit, Ulster achieved it.
The other is a place in the Magners League play-off semi-finals and they are on target to deliver on that front, too.
“We were in a position today where only 25 guys who have played for Ulster have been before. It’s a huge learning curve for us,” McLaughlin said.
“It’s one we will look at and we will build on. There is still a hell of a lot to come out of this team, there is no doubt about that.
“I have the utmost confidence in the players and the coaching staff. We worked exceptionally hard. We didn’t get it right in the second half but we’ve come a long way and those are the points that we want to emphasise as we go back to Magners League.
“This team now will come back, they will perform and it (playing Leinster) is a great, great opportunity for us to get back on the rails and make sure we don’t let the Magners slip.”
Asked where it had gone wrong in Milton Keynes skipper Best felt the match turned on the dramatic post-interval transformation in Ulster’s line-out.
“I think certainly the way our line-out performed, both in attack and defence at the start of the second half, was a bit of a turning point,” he said.
“We dropped a very, very small margin and they were able to get among us.
“We were struggling then to get near their ball — whereas we felt we were very close to them in the first half — and that got their maul going.
“Those are the fine margins that define quarter-finals and we weren’t as aware of that before the game as we are now.
“We came off a fraction, they upped their game and in the end that defined it.”