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O'Connor demands an end to Ulster's self-inflicted wounds - especially the black eyes

Keep cool: Alan O’Connor knows that Ulster have to be more disciplined in future games
Keep cool: Alan O’Connor knows that Ulster have to be more disciplined in future games
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

As Alan O'Connor entered the Ulster media room after a morning's training in the wind and rain, he did so still sporting a war wound from last week's defeat to Scarlets.

A black eye, one that by now had turned rather yellow, was the product of meeting his hooker Adam McBurney's head in the middle of a ruck in the 29-12 loss.

"It's always your own team-mates who do you in," he laughed.

Ulster suffered more than a few other self-inflicted wounds out in west Wales though, and it's these that are of more concern to the man who captained the side.

To end the home side's 25-game undefeated streak on their own patch was always to be a tall order, but any good Ulster did - they scored the game's first and last points but nothing in between - was too often undermined by their own errors.

There were long periods spent defending manfully in their own 22, most notably for an entire 20 minutes after half-time, but whenever there was a chance to relieve some of the pressure, possession was surrendered too easily.

When the levee finally broke on the hour mark, the game was gone, not so much the product of that score but a much softer one surrendered just before the turn when Kieron Fonotia broke through a couple of tackles in midfield.

"Every time we exited after a good set of defence we gave away stupid penalties and they would be straight back on us," lamented O'Connor.

"We do not want to be defending that much, we just did not get any field position. Our discipline let us down, especially away from home, you cannot be getting on the wrong side of refs.

"We actually started really well and then we just shot ourselves in the foot again and again. You can only absorb so much pressure.

"I think most of the forwards had over 20 tackles, and that is not including the assist tackles as well. There is a lot of contact in the game now, but we need to play in the right areas of the field, make sure we exit when we should and that we are nice and tidy when we do. And hopefully build pressure of our own and make other people tackle for a change.

"You can only defend for a certain amount of time in your 22 before they score or get a free play, because you have to be, not illegal, but on the edge.

"A couple of times against Treviso it was sort of similar things, in our ruck we were blasting past the ball, not placing it properly. If it's not one thing, it is something else.

"It is not one thing you can fix, it is a combination of things, so you just have to try and break it down and take one step at a time and get back to trying to play our game and impose ourselves on the other team.

"There was a lot of good defence in there but there's a good few work-ons this week, just double hits, getting our width in the ruck rather than tighten up so much."

Given the return of zero match points from the contest, and Scarlets' resulting leapfrogging of the province into second place in Conference B, the positives of the game, namely big improvement to a previously struggling set-piece, were lost in the shuffle.

"A good thing on the weekend and the weekend before, the lineout was pretty good and we can take good confidence from that," said O'Connor.

"It will be a good platform for us to get into the game, but also our maul defence, I think we defended 10 or 12 mauls only a couple of metres out which is good. Coming into this weather, you want to make sure you are on par with that.

"There were a good few positives and work-ons to look at.

"I think our training we have been really specific in what we are doing, really honing in on things that really matter, doing over video sessions. The front-row meet and the second-row meet and come up with a plan.

"I think we have a good thing going (now). It is looking like it is paying off anyway.

"(Head coach Dan McFarland) has been really good, he picks up on the really small things you would not really think about but they are actually the ones that matter the most."

Saturday's visitors Cardiff are also coming off the back of a defeat, the Blues having lost 40-15 to Glasgow on the same evening.

Cardiff coach John Mulvihill, striking a similar tone to O'Connor, said: "We have to learn from those errors because we can't keep making them.

"We'll be playing Glasgow four times this year and certainly we'll be better for it next week.

"Ulster are a really good team, and we'll review their performances and make sure that we'll get our performance right. From that, we'll build a game plan from what we've got. We will have players coming back from international duty and some of the subs from this game might have a chance to start next week.

"It's important for us to get back to winning ways next week, leading into back-to-back games against Saracens in Europe.

"Our major focus at the moment is the Guinness PRO14 and we get another crack at it next week before we go into the Champions Cup."

Ulster v Cardiff; Guinness PRO14 Championship; Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, 3pm

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