Ulster must cut out 'silly mistakes' to bounce back from crushing Edinburgh defeat: McCloskey
Outside the play-off spots and left to play catch-up in the Guinness PRO14, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey has admitted the province will have to reassess their goals after last Friday's home defeat to Edinburgh.
Quite aside from the big, but facile, win over Southern Kings, it's been a desperate fortnight in terms of the table for the province, who will have expected to have solidified their position in third place, but instead are looking up anxiously.
With Edinburgh playing Leinster the week before, Jono Gibbes' men would have seen these two games as a chance to extend their lead over the Scottish side from three points to double digits - if their neighbours could do them a favour and they then took care of business at home.
Instead, the reality was anything but, Duncan Weir's last-gasp drop goal condemning them to a 17-16 defeat and allowing Edinburgh to draw level on points.
With four of Ulster's last six games coming away from Kingspan Stadium, and Edinburgh having home advantage when the sides meet again in early April, it is clear that Richard Cockerill's men are in the driving seat to claim the last of Conference B's play-off spots, as well as an automatic place in next season's Champions Cup.
And with Benetton having surprisingly won five in a row, and benefiting from arguably the easiest remaining run-in in the whole league, the Italians, now just eight points off the pace, remarkably cannot be counted out either.
Having spoken about aiming for a home quarter-final and a top-two finish not too long ago, what would constitute a successful finish to the season for Ulster has changed dramatically.
"We were hoping to push on and get in the top two over this run of games but now we have to reassess and regroup to get the win (this) week," admitted McCloskey.
"We've Scarlets this week and then Glasgow at home but we're not looking too much further than that. We're halfway through this block of games and we'll sit down and reassess after that.
"We have to take it one game at a time and see where we go from there. The game against Edinburgh will be a massive one."
With three minutes to play last Friday night, Ulster had the lead and the ball but surrendered first possession and then their advantage.
McCloskey added that there was plenty of cause for frustration over how they failed to see out the game.
"There's definitely things we have to work on," he said. "We're not getting cut open as much as we were earlier in the season. We're making tackles, there must have been 200. I don't think it's a lack of effort, we just gave up too many soft yards up the middle.
"I think when you're down there with three minutes to go, 25 metres from their line and you give away a penalty then don't keep the ball in when they kick it down the line, you put yourself in a bad position.
"We've worked hard on defence. And most of it was very good but a couple of silly mistakes let them in for easy tries.
"We gave them some easy yards. Not necessarily just missing tackles but some pick and goes, not doing very much but getting across the gainline.
"Both sides played pretty well defensively and Edinburgh sneaked it. It wasn't a great feeling in the end."
As well as the result's effect on the table, injuries are again a lingering concern.
With a squad already stretched by the Six Nations, Ulster lost Sean Reidy, Rob Lyttle and Charles Piutau in the win over Southern Kings and are expected to know more on Craig Gilroy and Johnny McPhillips' fresh injuries today.