'There'll be a crowd there. Wow': Ulster look to build excitement after crushing final loss

The northern province were left deflated by Leinster’s complete dominance of Saturday’s final.

Ulster players stand by post-match. In the foreground, Ian Madigan consoles James Hume.Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DISCONSOLATE, DEFLATED AND undeniably beaten down in an array of aspects.

Ulster’s post-match demeanour after their 27-5 Pro14 final defeat to Leinster underlined their ambitious streak. At no point were they pleased to be part of the occasion.

They had come to fling the kitchen sink at Stuart Lancaster’s defence. It worked for a few wondrous minutes too. James Hume’s sensational try was the reward for their tenacious early approach. But once the sink was flung, Leinster squeezed tighter and tighter under what head coach Dan McFarland labelled a ‘killer’ intercept by Robbie Henshaw on Billy Burns put the result beyond all doubt.

A heavy defeat, 27 points without reply through the latter 77 minutes of the game, against provincial neighbours – the birthplace of many in the Ulster squad. There’s no way to view it that doesn’t sting.

As always though, the best balm is another meaningful game to turn attention to and reload the sink for.

“You harness (the disappointment) in the sense that the whole thing is a journey,” McFarland said post-match in the Aviva.

The next stopover in that journey is one they worked hard to earn through six tough pre-pandemic European pool fixtures. Four-time European champions on their home turf on Saturday. Four-time European champions on their own turf again on Sunday. 

Onwards to Toulouse.

“Every day has to be a part of getting better and this obviously gives us a real marker. In the past when we’ve lost these games, we’ve gone away and ruthlessly reviewed them to take away what we need to take away. We’ve taken a lot from that.

“Next week, it’s tough, obviously. In eight days we play Toulouse who… man, they’re one of the best teams in Europe. Size, speed, offload ability,

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“Try and find a weakness in their game is really difficult. They’ve probably got the best number 9 in the world, I would think.”

From Antoine Dupont and his half-back partner Romain Ntamack, out to Springbok speedster Cheslin Kolbe, former Connacht powerhouse Pita Ahki and the clinical boot of Thomas Ramos, there is no shortage of firepower. Certainly they won’t offer Ulster much of a cushion to rebuild confidence after being dismantled in Dublin.

“It’s a challenge but it’s a motivation in itself. We’re in a different competition, the quarter-final of the Champions Cup. There’s gonna be a crowd there. Wow. That’s awesome, even if it’s only 5,000 Toulouse people.

“We’ll be motivated by that and we’ll look forward to that challenge.”

McFarland might have felt a touch of Deja vu then as he found himself circled back to where he was before the Pro14 semi-final; discussing the imperfection of approaching a big season-defining game on the back of defeat.

Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Strong second-half flourishes in three of their four outings since restart have delivered one win – the dramatic comeback in Edinburgh. Saturday against Leinster was by a distance Ulster’s best start to a match.

Sunday in the south of France must be the time they put it all together. Otherwise, it’s all eyes on next season (which, admittedly, comes around next month).

“It’s nicer to go into these games winning than it is losing. But that’s sport, unless you’re wearing a blue jersey then a lot of teams do lose games.

“We’ve had a number of tough games so far so we can say we’re battle hardened, for sure.”