Ulster coach Matt Williams has called for his players to “grow up” as the province aim to break their Magners League duck against Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Although Ulster produced their most effective performance away from home of Williams’ tenure in the 16-15 defeat to Cardiff Blues last Friday night, the coach was furious his side’s inability to finish off the job having led the contest for most of the game.
When Isaac Boss bounced off Jamie Robinson to score Ulster’s second try of the evening following BJ Botha’s first-half touchdown, Niall O’Connor’s conversion established a match-winning position with a two-point lead going into the final 10 minutes.
But only second after the restart, Robbie Diack, who otherwise had enjoyed a highly-impressive night’s work at No 8, was penalized in a tight call at the breakdown and Ben Blair’s third penalty of the night condemned Ulster to a second successive defeat.
A combination of missed kicks (Clinton Schifcofske missed the conversion of Botha’s try while O’Connor missed two penalty attempts), penalties conceded in their own half as well as a sense of panic after the break when Ulster played too much rugby in their own half proved the visitors’ downfall.
With Clinton Schifcofske (achilles), Paddy Wallace (hamstring) and David Pollock (shoulder) all major doubts for Friday night’s clash against the Dragons, and Carlo Del Fava (shoulder) and Stephen Ferris (back) unlikely to be fit, Ulster will see their resources stretched after just two games.
But Williams, whose side currently lie in seventh place, 11 points behind leaders the Ospreys, wants his players to take responsibility for their actions rather than look for excuses.
“We have to start winning and stop feeling sorry for ourselves,” said Williams.
“And as I told them we have to grow up. We have to start getting tough and hard-nosed about it and start pointing the finger at each other and say ‘don’t give away dumb penalties 30 metres from the upright. Don’t run the ball when we want to be down at the other end.’
“That’s what we have to do away from home. Having said that, I was proud of their efforts and was proud of the style of rugby we played. All those huge positives. But that was makes it frustrating.”
Ulster did make big improvements in their defence and creativity, particularly in the first half when the visitors were worth more than their 8-6 lead at the break while Diack and David Pollock had storming games, Botha once again was a tower of strength at scrum time and made little of a broken nose suffered early in the first half, with O’Connor looked composed and attacked the gain line and kicked out of hand well.
Another tough week lies ahead for Williams’ squad however.
“They are going to have sore bums on Monday because there is going to be a lot of bum-kicking,” added Williams.
“There are so many young guys in that team, seven guys who are 22 and under, you have to give them some tough love every now and again.
“You can’t keep mollycoddling them. You have to say, ‘boys, grow up’.
“We have a got a home game coming up and we have to win it.
“The Dragons are a good side and won’t come and lie down so we might have to close the game out at home. That’s what we have to learn.”