So in the end, all of Ulster’s hard work was in vain. Despite winning the Pro12 regular season and seeing off the Scarlets in the play-off with relative ease, the Ulstermen could not seal the deal on Saturday as they succumbed to a 24-18 defeat in the RDS Arena to provincial rivals Leinster.
It’s devastating for Ulster. After reaching the Heineken Cup final last season and being duly hammered by Leinster, it seemed this year could be a shot at revenge – even if the game was in Dublin. Buoyed by the win at the RDS in March, fans headed down in confidence for once, rather than in hope.
Another slow start cost them though, and this time it was a cruel blow. In previous games Ulster have recovered against lesser opposition from behind, but not against Leinster. Once they had got their first try you knew Ulster were up against it and they never really recovered. 10-0 down after seven minutes was a hammer blow.
Discipline was also a very key part of the game and Ulster seemingly did not stay on the right side of the law for the game, increasingly annoying referee John Lacey throughout the match and culminating in a yellow card for Robbie Diack. It’s another learning curve for Ulster, for years their discipline has been brought into question and now they finally realise how detrimental it can be – it’s probably what lost them the match.
All in all, these two seasons have probably been building seasons for Ulster. Before the 2011/12 season they hadn’t reached a final for thirteen years. Now they have reached two in two years, and although they have lost both, Ulster will be far better off for the experience. Both Leinster and Munster had to go through a few years of failure before they became successful. Ulster are going through that now.
So for fans, all they can do is wait patiently. Ulster’s time will come, maybe not now, possibly not next season, but this side is too good not to win trophies. Ulster will keep building and will keep getting stronger and they will be in plenty more finals, and eventually they will win one. With a brand new stadium and a young squad quickly developing, the future is looking bright for Ulster, regardless of Saturday’s result.
What Anscombe will have to do, in what has been a very successful first season in charge for the Kiwi, is use this final to build. The Ulster side have built from the Heineken Cup final last year, they must now use this defeat to go that one step further. Next season will be a big season for Ulster Rugby. Because in my opinion it has to be a trophy season.
The longer Ulster reach finals and cannot finish it off, the longer they will start to believe they are a side that cannot get the job done. So next season will be crucial for Ulster – if they can bring a Heineken Cup quarter-final to Ravenhill and reach the play-offs of the Pro12 again then they will be on the right track. However, this should be an aim for Ulster every season.
This season has been mixed. A strong league showing, a 13-match unbeaten run and a lot of young players brought up through the ranks has been positive, but a poor knockout record and the loss of one of rugby’s young rising stars has made for an upsetting finish. Take it whatever way you will, but this has been another building season for Ulster and hopefully it will pay off in the long run.
Onwards and upwards for Ulster!
Best will roar for the Lions
Congratulations to Dylan Hartley for missing his second Lions tour due to his own indiscipline.
After swearing at referee Wayne Barnes in the Aviva Premiership final on Saturday and calling him a ‘cheat’ as well, an RFU disciplinary committee found Hartley guilty of the offence and banned him for 11 weeks which rules him out of the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia.
Capitalising on Hartley’s stupidity is none other than Ulsterman Rory Best who was unlucky to miss out on making the original tour squad and now gets a second chance to prove himself worthy of a Lions test spot. However, Best’s call-up, in my opinion, isn’t as much of a personal victory as many believe.
Getting into the Lions squad is an achievement, yes, but getting in because someone pulled out is not ideal. Best will be happy he’s got another chance but it still doesn’t disguise the fact that he’s not the first choice for the squad. Nevertheless, he has his chance and hopefully it is one he can grasp with both hands.
Good luck Rory!