Belfast Telegraph

Don't panic, it's early days for Ulster

By Niall Crozier

The words of Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend in the wake of his side's smash-and-grab 13-12 win over Ulster on Friday night at Ravenhill may have grated on his counterpart at the time.

Having just watched Ulster snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Mark Anscombe probably could have seen the Scot far enough.

But having had a couple of days to ruminate, Anscombe may have begun to take heart. Goodness knows, he could do with all the encouragement available at this moment, even from a rival.

"It's a long season. Last year we lost our first two games and we ended up getting to third place," Townsend said.

Right now Anscombe needs to remind himself and his players of that fact. League races are long-distance affairs, not sprints, so while losing the first two matches is not an ideal start, neither is it fatal. The situation can be redeemed.

Nevertheless there are some hard truths to be faced and Anscombe was forthright in his acceptance of that reality.

"We've got to stay positive about what we can do, but we can't paper over or dismiss the facts of the things that are hurting us," he said. "You can say all the fluffy and nice things but the fact is we've got to take reality and say, 'Guys, these little things that are hurting us can't keep happening week in and week out."

Friday night was Ulster's third successive PRO12 defeat, having followed the May 25 play-off final against Leinster at the RDS and the September 6 series opener against the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

Anscombe (pictured) agreed that Ulster could consider themselves unlucky given the nature of Friday night's defeat, a last-minute James Eddie try converted by Stuart Hogg saw Glasgow steal the match with the last kick of the night.

But he was honest enough to say that it was time for a reality check.

"We can't just week in and week out feel sorry for ourselves for not getting performances, or being unlucky, or being close," he said.

"We've got to take responsibility and take that luck out of it.

"If we had executed properly there wouldn't have been any luck about it. It would have been a game put to bed with quarter of an hour to go.

"I don't think even the Glasgow people would have believed that they should have been in that game with quarter of an hour to go.

"But we weren't good enough to finish off what we'd created and that hurts," he added, the pain audible in his voice.

Highlighting the cost of Ulster's profligacy – dropped passes by Michael Allen and Luke Marshall when tries looked inevitable, coupled with David McIlwaine's failure to ground the ball when over the goal-line – the Kiwi revealed that he will talk to those players individually about what had gone wrong.

"Yeah, you do. It's easy to point the finger at the one guy, but it's all the other little things, too," he said, fighting hard to conceal his frustration. "It's the things that people have to recognise. Some of those mistakes; are they common with the individual and is the individual working on those things to make sure they're not common mistakes?

"Sometimes you're wary about seeing little things happen that they are a pattern."

At that, one sensed there could be some pretty brutal video analysis in the near future.

Asked about the next challenge – Connacht at the Galway Sportsground on Saturday evening – he said: "You've got to look at the positives and you've got to think that you can't afford, in the competition, to go three and nought (games played and lost).

"We're already most likely at the bottom of the table and the fact is that what we're doing is giving other teams a run. So you start chasing and that's what you're doing all year. We don't want to get in those circumstances."

Finally – and without realising what Townsend had said earlier – Anscombe got close to echoing the Glasgow head coach's words of wisdom.

"It's still early days and there are a lot of good things that were in place today so we've got to take that and move ahead," Anscombe said.

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