Ulster fortunate results elsewhere keep PRO14 play-off destiny in their hands
While things certainly didn't go Ulster's way against Glasgow in Scotstoun on Friday night, results elsewhere this weekend have at least kept their play-off destiny in their own hands.
Despite a last-gasp try from Benetton to seal a draw away to Leinster, the northern province remain in second place with two games to go and a win against Edinburgh this Friday in Murrayfield would seal a play-off spot and a place in next season's Champions Cup.
Third-place Benetton are only two points adrift and in action against Munster on the same evening, with Edinburgh only one point further back, so it figures to be a crucial night in the PRO14 run-in. Scarlets aren't out of things mathematically either but are now odds on favourites to be spending a year in the Challenge Cup.
While Ulster could lose in Edinburgh and still find their way to knock-out rugby by beating Leinster on the final day, with Benetton facing Zebre and Edinburgh going against a Glasgow side likely to be looking to bigger battles ahead, playing catch-up going into round 21 would be far from ideal.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves, we need to get right back on the horse for Edinburgh and then Leinster," said winger Rob Lyttle.
"We know what's ahead of us. We've missed one chance but we've a few more to come."
Coming off the back of their European exit at the hands of Leinster, Ulster's return to PRO14 action produced their worst performance in months.
Despite taking an early 7-0 lead through a Rob Herring maul try, the visitors to Glasgow did not score again and were well beaten 30-7 against Dave Rennie's impressive outfit.
It was Ulster's largest margin of defeat since the visit to face Leinster in the RDS in the first weekend of 2019 and, having gone seven games unbeaten, they've now dropped two games in a row for a third time this season.
"We're bitterly disappointed," admitted Lyttle. "We left a few tries out there and there were a few of their tries that were soft on our part. We'll review and we'll go again.
"Any chance they got, they scored, and when we got chances we weren't as clinical as we have been in recent weeks.
"They're a quality side, to beat them we had to turn up at 100% and we didn't do that."
While clearly second best, Ulster could have come home with a valuable bonus point but squandered some good chances. A week on from Jacob Stockdale's now infamous fumble in the Aviva Stadium, Ulster knocked on twice in the process of trying to ground the ball. It was former Ulsterman Tommy Seymour who got in to dislodge the ball on both occasions, first on Luke Marshall and then Lyttle himself after a lengthy chase.
"That summed up the night," Lyttle said. "We weren't clinical enough and we didn't get the rub of the green.
"It's a tough place to come, especially on the artificial pitch, it just makes the ball very quick. It's something we're not used to but we're not going to make excuses.
"We just weren't clinical enough and we left too much out there."
If Friday is a key day in conference B, Saturday is D-Day in conference A. Connacht and Cardiff will go head-to-head in Wales with third place at stake. Connacht currently are in pole position - and would play Ulster at Kingspan in the play-offs if the season ended today - and have a four-point buffer. The western province had an almighty scare in Parma on Saturday, scraping past Zebre 6-5.
"There is a lot of energy expended out there," said their head coach Andy Friend after a victory that was the product of two penalties from Irish international Jack Carty in the opening 20 minutes.
"We knew it was going to be tough to break them down and it was tough to break them down, but we got the win and that is what we came here for.
"We move on to Cardiff now in control of our position."