Belfast Telegraph

Craig Gilroy: Ulster can't afford to throw chances away

By Michael Sadlier

His own performance in the defeat to Glasgow at Scotstoun seemed to reflect Ulster's overall effort with quick-witted creativity being closely shadowed by what was anything but pleasant viewing.

So, 13 minutes in and Craig Gilroy broke through with centre Luke Marshall unmarked outside him only for the winger's attempted off-load to badly miss the intended target. With Ulster dominant and leading 7-0, it was a grimace-inducing moment which, ultimately, proved costly to their cause.

However, the 24-year-old made amends early in the second-half with his quickly-taken throw allowing Stuart McCloskey to catch Glasgow's defence snoozing to score Ulster's second try and give the visitors the lead again.

They were unable to defend it, though, with Stuart Hogg's lengthy last-minute penalty cruelly denying Ulster a losing bonus point.

"That was disappointing," Gilroy rightly admits of missing Marshall. "Having watched it back I had more time than I thought and I just wanted to get it to Luke. That was a wasted opportunity, but the chance was still created.

"I apologised to Lukey afterwards but they are definitely the one per centers we need to take and, yes, they all add up."

And as for the part-redemption made from setting up McCloskey's score?

"That was off the cuff," says Gilroy. "But it's good to think what will happen if everything comes together, it's just that seems to be a bit of a problem at the minute."

And therein lies the issue. Fifth-placed Ulster have lost three of their last four PRO12 games - they are on equal points with Glasgow, who are in sixth but have a game in hand - and Les Kiss' side simply must see off leaders Connacht tomorrow night to keep their once robust-looking play-off hopes from beginning to seriously unravel.

With just four regulation season games to go, the pressure is visibly ratcheting up on Ulster as the western province - who haven't actually won in Belfast since 1960 - are unusually coming to the Kingspan with all the momentum off the back of a hugely gutsy win over Leinster.

Clearly the situation is uppermost in the home squad's minds and can only be stabilised through a victory and, ideally, a much more complete performance. Still, Ulster go into this somewhat encouraged to be the only side to have beaten Pat Lam's team at home this season, on Boxing Day.

Even so, these are worrying times for Ulster though Gilroy maintains that they are ready to turn their recent fortunes around.

"I don't know if it's worrying but there is still time," says Ulster's top try scorer in the league this season with six to his name.

"I don't think it's time to panic. I think we need to be a bit more ruthless (with opponents) and to put the foot on the throat when we have teams up against the wall.

"We know what we're capable of and we trust ourselves and believe in ourselves and that we can have a real strong finish to the season," he adds before addressing where they find themselves in the table.

"We've slipped to fifth now and, as it stands, we're even outside getting an away semi-final, but it's still there for us and it's in our hands."

Ulster's margin for error has now pretty much gone and with that has come a run-in where not only they have to chase a top four finish but also manage to protect the all-important place in next season's Champions Cup by not dropping below sixth. Fail on both fronts and the double whammy would have hugely damaging implications.

So, no pressure then. Gilroy gathers himself to issue a suitable sound bite for what now has to be done, starting with tomorrow evening.

"We owe it to ourselves, the coaches and the supporters and no better place to do it (to win) than home," he states. "We need a big performance for this run-in and to get the season going.

"It's non-negotiable," Gilroy adds of the absolute need for a result while also mentioning that he would also quite like to make a dent against the league's top try scorer, who happens to be Connacht's Matt Healy on nine.

"They came close last year (Ulster won 13-10 in the corresponding fixture in Belfast from December 2014) and we want to make that 57 years (without a Connacht win here)."

And how much they need to keep that record going strong against the westerners.

Belfast Telegraph

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