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Chris Henry: No excuses can be made for Ulster's demolition in Glasgow

Home truths: captain Rory Best addresses the Ulster squad after their Guinness PRO14 semi-final loss to Glasgow
Home truths: captain Rory Best addresses the Ulster squad after their Guinness PRO14 semi-final loss to Glasgow
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

When a well-oiled machine hits top gear, you can be left feeling a bit like a fly on the wind-shield.

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That how I felt about the Heineken Cup final of 2012, going up against Leinster at Twickenham when there were times that the securing of their third star saw them cut through us like a hot chainsaw through butter.

But it's a game that, when I think back on it, there's no regrets because the reality of the situation was so obvious. We were beaten by a much better team who hit top form on the day.

When Dan McFarland spoke on Friday night in Scotstoun, I imagine he was thinking something similar. Having caught Glasgow on a night when they were on song, it's debatable whether even Ulster's best performance would have been good enough to go toe-to-toe with one of the league's undoubted heavyweights.

Thinking back, it wasn't one where you're left ruing missed chances, because there weren't any chances. It wasn't that Ulster didn't fire a shot, Glasgow didn't even let them get the gun out of the holster.

They started the game so well and they maintained their intensity until it was won. The sight of Tommy Seymour rushing in after his pack had secured a key turnover in the game and gesturing "one more, one more and they're gone" was real foot-on-the-throat stuff. Glasgow were relentless and just never let Ulster up off the canvas, never giving them an in to get into the game.

With two weeks to prepare, and recent experience of seeing Glasgow up close, Dan McFarland will have had a gameplan in place but I'd be interested to know just how much of it, if any, his side were able to implement.

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Unfortunately, what plagued the province in their April meeting remained problematic. The line-out was a disaster, indeed robbing Ulster of their only real piece of territory in the first-half, while the breakdown did nothing to slow down Glasgow and the pace with which they look to play. Throughout this season it's always looked as if Ulster have learned from their defeats.

Very different teams, but you look at how they played in the Aviva and the gameplan looked tailored towards, not just playing to Ulster's strengths, but negating Leinster's too.

For whatever reason, and Glasgow's level of performance has to be taken into consideration too, Friday night played out exactly as the hosts would have hoped, solutions to what troubled Ulster six weeks ago lacking over the course of the 80 minutes.

To boot, there were new cracks emerging too. Escorting has been a hot topic in the game lately given the success of Saracens and their England contingent. Legally or not, it is something that Glasgow do really well. Ulster's kicking yielded no reward, not a single 50/50 going their way and, with the exception of one penalty awarded for a fairly blatant block on Jacob Stockdale, the Ulster wing must have been frustrated in his efforts.

Given his physical attributes and abilities in the air, he's naturally the dangerman when the ball is up there but he was effectively shepherded out of the chase by tactics that just don't seem to be drawing a referee's attention at the minute.

All that said, when the margin of victory is 30-points, we're talking macro rather than micro issues and fans will have been heartened to hear Bryn Cunningham interviewed after the game and make a point to offer no excuses for the performance, whether it was injuries, referees, or even just the simple fact that he's lost almost a whole pack's worth of forward depth over the course of a season.

Seven tries to three - with Ulster's coming late - told the story of a difference in quality and there was no attempt to sugar-coat the message.

To me that shows there's a determination to get better rather than hope the current trajectory continues.

Conceding 50 points in any game is tough to take, let alone a semi-final, but on the whole this has to be remembered as a season in which expectations were surpassed.

Now it's time to take the next step.

The future is still bright despite exit of heroes Best and Cave

When Brian O'Driscoll hung up his boots for Ireland, it was a type of farewell that we hadn't really seen before, or really since.

The fact of the matter is that most players don't get to say goodbye to the game in the way they want.

It's not a sport that usually gives you that fairytale ending to your career and there were no exceptions made for Rory Best and Darren Cave on Friday night.

Best may yet get the dream send-off when he captains Ireland out in Japan, and I'm sure his ovation from the Glasgow crowd and players was a nice moment too, but it certainly wasn't the way we wanted to see the last of Darren in an Ulster jersey.

He should be delighted to have matched Andrew Trimble's Ulster appearance record though, even if the best way to bow out would have been to exceed it this weekend in a Guinness PRO14 final.

They'll both be missed around the place next year for sure, but when I look at the Ulster squad for 2019/20, it's one that I expect to be better again.

First and foremost, how much would Ulster have loved to have the likes of Will Addison, Craig Gilroy and Marty Moore available to them for the big games at the end of the season?

Injuries will always happen but those key guys will certainly be welcome when they return next season.

Sam Carter, Jack McGrath, Matt Faddes, Gareth Milasinovich and Bill Johnston will all come in, and I think a few of those players are going to be great recruits, but the main reason for hope has to be the young players from the Academy.

You look at the impacts the likes of Mike Lowry, Eric O'Sullivan, Angus Kernohan, James Hume and Robert Baloucoune have made this season and you have to wonder how much better they'll be next year for those experiences.

Even Marcus Rea, the whole province was buzzing after his debut in the last game of the season, and he is another for the future.

If Ulster are to bridge the gap to the likes of Glasgow, these are the players they are going to need to get them there.

PRO14 final may have impact on World Cup opener

The PRO14 final is set up to be a clash between the two best sides in the league but also the best that Ireland and Scotland have to offer.

Watching Glasgow on Friday, it was clear they were too good on the night for Ulster, but seeing the likes of Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Ali Price tearing it up will have caught the eye throughout Ireland.

There's certainly plenty of water to pass under the bridge before we get to Yokohama on September 22 but it'll be a fairly large psychological boost for a sizeable chunk of Gregor Townsend's national side if their two prior competitive games before taking on Ireland at the World Cup are victories over Ulster and then Leinster.

Momentum is a funny thing - those Six Nations titles of 2014 and 2015 didn't do us much good in the end four years ago - but it's an interesting sub-plot nonetheless.

That game, the first of the pool, will have such a huge bearing on the competition, even if Japan can threaten to do something on home soil.

With the All Blacks and Springboks also meeting that weekend, you have four of the eight or so teams that could possibly win the whole thing meeting in the first few days of the tournament.

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