Ulster boss Anscombe proud of never-say-die heroes
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe made no attempt to hide his upset after seeing his seriously handicapped team pipped to the post in Saturday night's bruising Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens.
Referring to Jared Payne's dismissal Anscombe said: "When you lose a pretty important player four minutes into the game you're always going to have your back against the wall.
"It's unfortunate, a collision in the air. Did it warrant a red card? I think we were pretty hard done-by there. You know, sometimes I think it's the emotion of the injury that creates the penalty. I think at worst it's a yellow card.
"A red card four minutes into the game (meant) we were always going to be chasing our tails.
"But I've got to take my hat off to the boys – to hang in there and actually be taking the game to them at 17-15 in the 80th minute is testament to the men we'd got out there.
"They've got to be really proud of their effort and the work they did today to keep the game at that score.
"You just saw how difficult it was – a couple of the tries they scored we just got numbers down. But we hung in there and we went to the break at 9-5. That's a pretty good feat.
"And then to come back to 17-15.... a couple of calls went close there at the end; they've got a gentleman who doesn't like using his arms as a tackle flies in at you but he got away with everything tonight so that's the way it goes sometimes."
Injuries to Rory Best (ankle) and Ruan Pienaar (shoulder) saw them exit in the 13th and 50th minutes respectively. Those, too, were crushing blows.
"That's disappointing for the crowd," Anscombe said. "It was a great day here and the fact is that you want to be able to put on a good game.
"Twelve minutes into the game you've lost a top class player like Jared Payne, Rory Best – who's hugely important to us – has gone and Ruan's carrying that shoulder.
"Those three guys are pretty important and to lose them and still hang in there is a testament to the others."
Tellingly, there was no regret about having risked Pienaar who was struggling after only a few minutes. Quite the opposite – in the same situation Anscombe would do the same again.
"Medically we thought that he'd be alright. We thought it was worth the risk," he said.
"Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn't. That's just the way it is. But that was our choice and if we were confronted with it again we'd do the same thing."
When asked if he was proud of his players' effort in such difficult circumstances he replied: "You have to be, don't you, when you see that.
"They (Saracens) are leading the English competition and dominating that and we held them to two points with 14 men for more or less the whole match. You've got to be proud of a group of guys who can do that.
"And you know, another day we might have got another penalty there and we could be here with smiles on our faces after a one-point victory. That's how close it was.
"We were taking the game to them in the 80th minute with 14 men and you've got to be proud of a group who can do that."