Heineken Cup: McLaughlin’s men pay price for missed opportunities
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin was magnanimous in the wake of his side’s 23-13 Heineken Cup defeat by Northampton Saints in Milton Keynes yesterday.
A crowd of 21,309 watched the quarter-final — a record for stadium:mk and the biggest attendance ever at a Northampton ‘home’ game.
McLaughlin conceded that victory had gone to the better team.
“At half-time we felt we were right in the game. In the second-half they upped their intensity a little bit, our set piece maybe wasn’t on the money and they made us pay heavily,” he said.
“You can’t fault our lads at all for the effort they put in. The way they went about their job in the first-half and throughout the whole game was exceptional so I have no fault with them at all.
“It’s a huge learning curve for us. We’re in a position that we haven’t been in for a long time and we learnt an awful lot out there.”
Highlighting the thin dividing line between success and failure in such high-intensity fixtures he recalled: “We ran a penalty in their 22 which, had it gone to hand, we would have been in an even game at 20-all, but that’s what you get in European Cup quarter-finals; you’ve got to take every opportunity that you get.
“In those first 10-15 minutes after half-time we had a few set piece opportunities, a few quality opportunities, to get points on the board and unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalise on them.”
Whilst bitterly disappointed to have lost, McLaughlin had warm words of congratulations for the victors.
“All credit to Northampton. They upped the ante, they came at us very strongly and in the end they were deserving winners, no doubt about that,” he said.
“We’ve been impressed watching them over the past few weeks in the lead-up to this game.
“They’re very good at what they do. Their set piece is excellent, they have some quality players and to be fair that probably told on the day.
“In the second-half they squeezed us very tight and they certainly have the firepower to go on and do exceptionally well in this competition.”
He was honest enough, too, to admit that Ulster had contributed to their own downfall to an extent.
“I felt that in the second-half we just took our eye a wee bit off the money in the set piece and they got a little bit of dominance there,” said McLaughlin.
“The effort was there. The guys put everything into it, like they were asked to do, so those are things that we can talk about at a later date when we’ve had a chance maybe to digest and learn from them.”