Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Muller cannot hide his pain at harsh card as Ulster lose out to Saracens

The emotion of the pitch-side TV interview in the immediate aftermath in what had proved to be his final European game for Ulster had slightly subsided by the time Johann Muller entered the room.

Even so, the South African was clearly struggling with what had unfolded on the night and the crushing reality that Ulster had, yet again, been undone in their push for Heineken Cup silverware.

Jared Payne's red card, allied to Ulster's loss of three key players to injury, had all added to the claustrophobic mix of disappointment.

Yet the men in white had, somehow, found it within themselves to take the game right down to the final play with the closing moments all about Ulster putting together 30-plus phases in one last heave for a score of any kind.

By that time, though, Muller had been called ashore, with Robbie Diack coming on for the skipper whose head had remained bowed as he left the field with Ulster then trailing 17-9 and looking out of it.

And, yes, Muller spoke eloquently of his pride at what his team-mates had done in taking the fight right back to Saracens.

But he also had to voice his outlook on losing Payne so early in the game after his collision with a mid-air Alex Goode was deemed dangerous play by Jerome Garces.

"If we had lost fair and square I would have taken it, but to lose the way we did is hard," the skipper said.

"I thought the red card was really harsh. It's disappointing to lose the game in the manner we did and what I saw on the big screen was that Jared never took his eyes off that ball.

"The safety of players is the most important thing but at the end of the day my feeling was that Jared never took his eyes off the ball and he never saw him (Alex Goode) coming until he made contact with him.

"I don't know whose decision it was (the referee or TMO), but I just said 'go upstairs and look at it on the big screen'.

"Everybody could see the replay and the referee said the guy came down on his head and that it's automatically a red card."

"I don't want to criticise the referee, he made the call and we have to live with that. But I think he penalised the injury not the action."

Muller then spoke of his pride at how Ulster had not only stood up to the challenge of playing for 75 minutes with 14 men, but had managed to stay in with a chance of actually winning the quarter-final.

"I couldn't be prouder of the character the team showed because there are not a lot of teams that will play for 75 minutes and still have an opportunity to win it with two minutes to go."

"It just showed the character and hunger in the squad. To fall short by two points ... it hurts so much more," he added.

What Muller said to his team-mates at half-time was clearly a point of interest.

"I came in at half-time (Ulster were astonishingly leading 9-5) and I said to the boys 'if we can pull this off it will be the greatest rugby achievement of my career' and not one of the 23 guys ever doubted (that we could win it).

"I'm massively proud.

"But it will probably haunt us for the rest of our lives because that was a massive one that got away from us."

No argument there, Johann.

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