AironiI 19 Ulster 25: Brian McLaughlin’s words in the immediate aftermath of his side’s latest victory put things into context perfectly.
Speaking just after the final whistle at Stade Zaffanella his summary of Saturday afternoon’s RaboDirect Pro12 triumph was: “I’m happy that we got a win, but not with the way we played.
“At times we were excellent, but at other times — with the conditions — we suffered. There’s no doubt that we struggled with the heat and we certainly weren’t at our best,” was his candid assessment.
That was particularly true of both scrum and line-out, “where they put us under ferocious pressure” though as McLaughlin pointed out: “We sorted those out at half-time. Both our scrum and out line-out went better in the second-half.
“We’re delighted that we’re leaving here with four points and but for a lack of accuracy with a pass in the last minute we might even have had a bonus.
“Played two, won two and three tries scored in each of those games isn’t too bad at all,” he reflected.
“And the tries we scored against Aironi — who are a very physical and very experienced side — were excellent.
“If you’re looking at that game it’s a case of us having scored good tries but then switching off a bit, allowing them to get back into us from the restart. We’ve got to improve on that.”
The most worrying aspect of Ulster’s performance was the number of penalties conceded.
McLaughlin said: “We can work on our set piece so I’m not too worried about that. I’m far more concerned that we gave away 15 penalties.
“That’s something we need to take a good look at and make sure we’re back to normal come Friday night against Cardiff.”
With Welsh referee Neil Hennessy twice having spoken to captain Chris Henry, Ulster knew they were on borrowed time. Finally that ran out when prop Jerry Cronin — the only surviving member of the six front row forwards who started — was sent to the sin-bin in the closing stages after one too many offside incursions.
Asked about the referee’s repeated reprimands of his players McLaughlin explained: “I think there was a little bit of a problem in and around the breakdown.
“He said we weren’t rolling (away) and a couple of times he thought we weren’t releasing. That was his position on what was happening.
“A few times we came in from the side and fair enough, he got us for those.”
But confirming his upset at the concession of so many penalties by Ulster he conceded: “That is an area of concern.”
And agreeing that, more than once, a good attack position had come to nothing, McLaughlin emphasised the difficulties attributable to the searing heat, the match having been played beneath a clear blue sky from which the sun shone mercilessly giving rise to an on-field temperature in excess of 30c.
“The boys were absolutely baked out there,” he stressed.
“Most of them have never played in heat like that before so I don’t imagine they’re going to forget that experience quickly. We don’t get too many days like that at Ravenhill.”
He also expressed his surprise that with Ulster having gone four points clear at 20-16 courtesy of Craig Gilroy’s try, neither of the two Italian assistant referees adjudged Ian Humphreys’ conversion to have been on target.
“From where we were sitting it definitely looked over, so while it was a tough decision for the referee (to overrule his assistants) it was the right one,” the coach insisted.
Ulster’s first-half try-scorers were Ian Whitten and Dan Tuohy, with Humphreys donating two conversions and a brace of penalties, the first of those a gem from 56-metres which saw his side turn round leading 15-13.
McLaughlin’s overview of Ulster’s latest win was: “I keep telling people that there are no gimmes in this competition.
“We’ve just got to learn from today, push on and ensure that we don’t allow teams to come back at us by giving them soft points.”