Best in tears as Ulster career ends with shattering loss
After the wheels came off Ulster's PRO14 dreams in a 50-20 semi-final defeat to Glasgow, head coach Dan McFarland admitted it was tough to see a tearful Rory Best bow out on a night when the province were well below the standards they've set this season.
Rugby round up Newsletter
The hosts ran in seven scores to book their place in the Celtic Park final - two for former Ulsterman Tommy Seymour - with the province's three second-half tries through Marcell Coetzee, Rob Herring and Mike Lowry nothing more than a consolation.
In what will prove to be the last Ulster games for Best and Darren Cave, who equalled the side's all-time appearance record from the bench, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
"I'd say pretty clearly he wanted to go out on a win, and probably wanted to play in a game where we played our best rugby," said McFarland of his retiring skipper.
"We didn't do that, that's the most disappointing thing. Win or lose in those games you want to play your best rugby, and in the playoff games, we did that in the quarter-final of the European Cup, I think, and in the quarter-final of the PRO14 we were sort of halfway there."
"But I have to be really careful because I don't want it to sound like had we played well we would have won that game because I'm not sure we would have. I really thought Glasgow were a notch above us."
Leading from the third minute right through to the bitter end, it was a night when even Ulster's peak level likely wouldn't have saw them through to a first final since 2013, such was the level of Glasgow's superiority.
"We were very disappointed in our performance but at the same time, having watched that Glasgow performance, I'm not sure even our best performance would have won here," admitted McFarland.
"That's the best I've seen them play this year and I thought they were good value for their win - tactically astute, physically on the money and in terms of precision and accuracy, excellent."
While Glasgow were a cut above, McFarland remains adamant he has seen enough in his first year in charge to know that his side are heading the right way to bridge the gap.
"When you stand in the changing room with guys who have that spirit, that determination, I've no doubt that we can bridge that gap," he added.
A focus next season will be eradicating night's like last night - somewhat similar to the previous trips to Munster, Leinster and Racing 92 - when it feels as if the side are beaten out of the gate away to superior opposition.
"This year we've had a couple of key games where we've fallen behind to those tries early on and then not been able to pick ourselves up off the canvas," reflected McFarland.
"We were looking for smart play and it was smart play by them.
"Defensively we got that wrong and we were on the back foot from then on."