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European Champions Cup: Ulster must learn from harsh Saracens lesson says captain Best

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster skipper Rory Best believes the side must quickly forget the disappointment of seeing Saracens leave the Kingspan Stadium with five points after a 27-9 triumph on Friday night.

It was the worst possible start to the province's Champions Cup campaign, and they now prepare for the double-header against Toulouse next month without a point to their name, but there is no time to lick wounds ahead of a trip to the RDS to face Leinster back in the PRO12 this weekend.

Ulster have only won once in Dublin against their inter-provincial rivals since 1999, a run that includes defeats in two PRO12 semi-finals and a final in the last five seasons, and another loss on Friday would already be their fourth of the domestic campaign.

With trips to champions Glasgow, league leaders Connacht and last season's fellow beaten semi-finalists Ospreys still ahead, to lose a quartet of PRO12 games before the Christmas decorations have even been taken out of storage would put real pressure on the rest of the campaign.

"We have to be men about it and stand up to what's going to be a fairly tough review," said Best.

"I don't think anyone likes to lose, especially big games at home.

"The good thing about having Leinster away next is that if we don't learn from that, do it quickly and produce a much better performance then you'll be on the end of another beating like that.

"That's the pressure we're under. We're going to have to front up and learn a lot of harsh lessons.

"We've got to quickly park that and move on. We're looking for a vast improvement."

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With Friday's opponents also enduring an unwanted start to their Champions Cup campaign - Leo Cullen's side were humbled by Wasps before losing narrowly to Bath at the Rec on Saturday and face three-time champions Toulon twice next month - Best deflected the notion that Irish provinces were set for a fallow period in Europe or suffering from a World Cup hangover.

"With Leinster last week and us this week, they weren't performances that either team will be proud of," admitted Ireland's most-capped hooker (pictured).

"We always talk about it in Irish rugby, that you get back to your provinces and it's meant to mean a lot more to you than with the English teams who move about more freely but it definitely didn't look like it out there.

"I don't think it's a hangover, we just didn't perform to the level that we expect.

"I think we're judging it on two very bad results for Irish provinces over the last two weeks.

"We came here with a game plan and were very confident that we would win. We didn't implement it as we meant to.

"I'm not sure if it's a shift in power, it's hard to speak for Leinster, but we're a lot better than we showed.

"The big difference against Saracens is that if you give them half a chance, they take it.

"They had four real chances and scored four tries."

In what was a first European game for Les Kiss, Ulster's Director of Rugby cut a thoroughly frustrated figure in the immediate aftermath, although he refused to use the rustiness of his side, or what could easily have been a red card for opposition flanker Michael Rhodes after four minutes, as excuses for his team's lacklustre showing over the game's final hour.

"We certainly positioned the game where we would have liked it in the first 20-25 minutes," said Kiss.

"I was certainly disappointed with that 10-minute period at the end of the first-half when we didn't put our foot on the throat.

"Back-to-back errors gave them access to our areas of the pitch and they did well to get the try.

"9-5 is certainly different to 9-0 at half-time.

"In the second-half we didn't handle the restart, albeit we still didn't yield a point, but when we had a chance to assert ourselves and put them under pressure we just didn't work hard enough to make those opportunities come our way.

"It certainly puts Saracens in a place where they feel very confident with where they're heading in the competition.

"You've got to look at it and we're a game down in the competition because we haven't played Oyonnax yet, we have Toulouse home and away and they're probably pretty defining in the whole mix of things.

"It certainly puts us on the back foot."

Belfast Telegraph


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