Ulster 6 Munster 16: There was no hiding place after Munster’s makeshift side had stolen away from Ravenhill having bagged their first win in Belfast for three years.
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin sat flanked by skipper Johann Muller and Nevin Spence and tried to make sense of Ulster’s third consecutive defeat in all competitions; the dreaded second-half syndrome — Ulster failed to trouble the scoreboard with Ruan Pienaar’s 73rd minute penalty miss to tie the scores being particularly hard to take — again seeing McLaughlin’s squad fade from view.
To rub salt further into Ulster’s wounds, Ivan Dineen’s late, late score robbed the home side of what looked like a certain losing bonus point after an under pressure Ian Humphreys juggled Pienaar’s pass into Dineen’s grateful grasp.
They now have no game until the visit to Cardiff Blues on November 21st, so much work will have to be done in the meantime to prevent Ulster’s season going further south.
“We’re exceptionally disappointed with the result,” a clearly dejected McLaughlin said afterwards.
“We tried to stay in the game at the end, running the ball when we should have maybe looked for field position.
“But those are the options you take and unfortunately we let the bonus point slip away.
“The most disappointing fact for me was that we weren’t able to turn our possession into points and that’s a problem we’ve had now for the last couple of weeks,” the Ulster coach added, understandably finding it difficult to lighten the mood.
“When you’re playing with the wind you’ve got to make sure you’ve got territory and you take your points,” he continued.
“We got down there we kicked our penalties but we missed one and then we missed a vital one in the second half.
“Those are the little things which cost you at this level. But there are positives to take out of it and Nevin (Spence) had a smashing game, our young fellahs came on and we also scrummaged reasonably well.”
With Pienaar’s place kicking stats coming under more scrutiny, McLaughlin refused to add to the debate and robustly defended Ulster’s most high profile signing.
“Ruan is a proven world class place kicker and he’s finding things a little bit difficult at the minute,” McLaughlin diplomatically commented.
“We’ve got to have and show faith in him. He’s a world class place kicker so he will come good, we’ve got to have patience.”
However, patience is looking increasingly like a luxury simply Ulster cannot afford indulge in. Another defeat in their next game at Cardiff Blues will be immensely damaging to their currently wobbly-looking campaign.
“We’ve got to work very hard over the break and really work on our ruthless attitude and our game management,” was all McLaughlin was prepared to say when looking ahead to the future.
Ulster skipper Johann Muller also tried to put his steer on the situation and found little that was positive from the side’s recent run of results.
“People are asking us what went wrong in the second half in the last three games, but it’s actually the first half that is hurting us.
“Once again tonight we were in the ‘22’ for 20 minutes of that first half and we just couldn’t get any points out of it.
“It was exactly the same thing last week and the week before. As long as we’re not taking our opportunities we’re going to be sad after the games,” the Springbok second row said.
“It’s just a matter of not looking after the ball and the final touch and final finishing is just not there. It’s nothing to do with coaching it’s just the players who not have to look at themselves.”
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues enjoyed a straightforward 20-3 Magners League victory over rock bottom Aironi at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella.