Belfast Telegraph

Hurt pride will help Ulster to roar back, says Sean Reidy


Going down: Ulster’s Sean Reidy in the thick of the action against Clermont
Going down: Ulster’s Sean Reidy in the thick of the action against Clermont
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

He was part of the brilliant attacking move that got Ulster on the board early at the Stade Marcel Michelin, but after that there was little to celebrate from a team perspective for Sean Reidy.

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It was the flanker who was the benefactor of an inside pass to make the initial break that would eventually end with Marty Moore sending John Cooney over the line for the scrum-half's fifth try in as many European games and have Ulster 10-3 up on a stunned Clermont side inside the opening 10 minutes.

Hopes soared, and the possibility of a shock result against one of Europe's big names only heightened when the Auvergne were reduced to 14 men when Morgan Parra saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on.

From there, however, things went downhill. Ulster failed to score during the sin-bin period despite repeatedly turning down kicks at goal to go for the corner, and instead of leading comfortably at half-time, Parra's two penalties had it a one-point game at the break.

"We were down in their '22' for a long time and in that situation you'd expect to get a few points out of it at least," lamented Reidy.

"At the same time, fair play to them, they fronted up and defended well, got a couple of turnovers and sent us back to our halfway line."

From there, the second half proved to be something of a procession.

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Alivereti Raka went over to put Clermont ahead for the first time in the game and the combined boots of Parra and Greig Laidlaw put the match beyond the visitors.

By the time former All Blacks centre George Moala buried over late in the tie, it was no more than rubbing salt in the wounds.

"First half we played really well, we just left a couple of tries out there and when you don't take your opportunities there then they'll punish you," repeated Reidy.

"Clermont came out firing in that second half and they were tough to contain."

This week, therefore, takes on an interesting new light. Not only do Ulster still have their European fate to settle, but for the first time since their loss in Limerick against Munster back on November 9, they have to produce a response.

Sure, they lost to Leinster in late December, but given the 14 changes they made from one game to the next, it wasn't the same team that was having to brush off that loss and get back on the horse.

On this occasion, it will largely be the same squad that will take to the field against Bath on Saturday in their final pool game at Kingspan knowing it's make or break time.

They can fall back on where the Clermont defeat sits in context. After all, it was only Ulster's fourth defeat of the entire season, and was the first time this campaign - 15 games in - that they haven't taken anything from a tie in terms of league points, something they have vastly improved on from previous campaigns.

Allied to that is that it was only the second time in Ulster's last seven games that they failed to notch four tries and pick up a bonus point. In fact, you have to go back to that trip to Thomond Park against Munster in November for the last, and only other, time this season they've only scored one try in a game.

It's scant consolation, though. As Reidy points out, for a team that was on a run of seven wins in eight heading into the game in Paris, victories are all they're interested in.

"You want to be performing and getting these wins in Europe," he insisted. "You don't get any second chances, so we've got to put this to one side and look at Bath this week."

In many ways, knowing that their fate in Europe is uncomplicated this weekend will make things crystal clear for Ulster.

Win, and they'll have a last-eight tie to look forward to in April. Lose, and they're in the unwanted position of needing other teams to do them a favour.

But that won't be mentioned within team circles. Ulster's pride is hurting, and that's all that's required for them to be hell-bent on producing a bounceback display on Saturday.

"That's it, without a doubt," agreed Reidy. "We have a few learnings to take from that game but we're excited to be back at Kingspan Stadium this Saturday and go again."

And as for potentially stealing a home quarter-final from Clermont, provided the French side slip up in their final pool game at already-eliminated Harlequins?

"You never know. The Stoop is a tough place to go to, we know that ourselves. We'll just focus on ourselves, put our best foot forward and come out all guns blazing," concluded the flanker.

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