Ulster must step it up, says Pienaar
Man of the match Ruan Pienaar was modesty personified in the midst of the post-match congratulations for his outstanding performance.
As well as kicking 17 of Ulster’s 22 points — five penalties and the conversion of Pedrie Wannenburg’s first-half try — the scrum-half’s game management was top-notch.
“The set-piece went well. The scrum, the line-out went well,” he said, deflecting the praise from himself and onto his forwards.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t get a lot of opportunities in that first half. We were defending most of the time.
“The guys really stood up and we are relieved with the victory. We know it wasn’t our best performance and there’s a lot to improve on, but we’ll take the win.
“We need to work hard in the next couple of weeks because whoever we face it’s going to be a tough one.”
The South African World Cup winner also endorsed his 20-year-old half-back partner, Paddy Jackson, the youngest player on the pitch.
“Paddy did really well. He marshalled the forwards well and had a couple of good tactical kicks,” he said.
And Pienaar was happy to give Jackson credit for having taken responsibility for himself, stressing that he had not been required to nurse his young partner through the semi-final.
“No, he’s a capable rugby player and he’s got a lot of talent. I think there are big things to come from Paddy Jackson; he’s a brilliant player,” he said.
“There were a lot of (experienced) guys, like Paddy Wallace, around him to calm the nerves.”
And a battered and exhausted but happy Andrew Trimble described the victory as being “my favourite moment in an Ulster shirt by a long way”.
The Irish international winger has been through some lean times in the colours of his native province, but Saturday evening’s triumph may just be the start of the pay-back he and others like him deserve for having stuck with it, persevered and kept the faith when there appeared to be little reason for doing so.
“It’s pretty special; we have a Heineken final to look forward to now and it doesn’t get much better than that,” said Trimble, who explained that, while Ulster’s progress in the past couple of seasons may have surprised some people, he was not one of them.
“I think we always had a lot of belief. I think we were very aware ourselves of what we were capable of and I think finally we’ve started to show that on the pitch,” he said.
Like his comrades in arms, Trimble knew Ulster had not played anything like as well as they can. The RaboDirect PRO12’s leading try-scorers were seldom able to put the ball through hands, as a result of which far more was seen of flair players like himself, Craig Gilroy and Stefan Terblanche in defence than in attack.
It was a win dug out by virtue of sheer hard graft, resolution and a determination not to let the chance of a Heineken Cup final slip by.
“We played well in bits and pieces,” was Trimble’s assess
ment. “We defended well, we fought the bit out. Semi-finals —I haven’t got much experience of them — seem to be that way. You just dig in and fight for every inch and today was like that.”
And he was complimentary in his analysis of the opposition for having forced Ulster to scrap for success.
“Edinburgh threw a lot at us and all credit to them. They stretched us, they put the ball through a lot of phases, played with a lot of width and put us under a lot of pressure.
“Fortunately, as I said, we just fought the bit out. We were climbing over each other to make tackles and I think that showed a massive amount of the spirit in this team and what we’re capable of. I think that spirit’s going to take us a long way,” he forecast.
Describing the atmosphere as “unbelievable” Trimble continued: “It (the atmosphere) is very unique whenever the Aviva is full and it’s not often that you get a chance to fill it with Ulster supporters and to play in a white jersey for your club.
“It means a massive amount to everybody in the squad and to everybody who took the field today to have the support we had out there. It’s just amazing.”
Like his coach, Brian McLaughlin, the Ulster number 14 admitted that the performance in the Twickenham final against Leinster on Saturday May 19 will have to be better than that served up in the penultimate round at the Aviva Stadium.
“I think we will have to produce a better display with ball in hand.
“We will have to be able to take the ball through a number of phases, we’ll have to have a little bit more organisation in phase-play and we’re just going to have to hold on to the ball better than we did today.
“But the attitude that we showed – just climbing over each other and dogged, dogged defence – is something that can’t be coached. I don’t know if it’s unique to Ulster but it has got us a long way.
“That attitude is just something that comes quite naturally, although perhaps we’ve had to develop it a little bit and bring it out and fine-tune it. But it is going to get us a long way,” Trimble predicted.