The second row and captain gives his account of Friday’s Inter-Pro clash with Leinster and reflects on opportunities missed in Dublin.
Sam, can you give us your initial thoughts on the game?
It was pretty gutting. We came down with a plan to go toe-to-toe for 80 minutes with Leinster and get a good result. There were parts of our game that were good, but particularly the first 20 minutes of the second half where they piled on the pressure and we couldn’t get out of our own half; we weren’t good enough.
It was a close game; does that give you confidence that you can win against Leinster when they come to Belfast?
Absolutely. It’s just the little errors we keep making; I don’t think there’s a lack of effort or big plays. We have those, but there were tiny errors; not getting out of our own half put pressure on ourselves with some ill-discipline. If you give a good team that many chances, they’re going to squeeze you and get the result.
Does that make it doubly frustrating when it’s small errors that you know are mostly avoidable?
It is, and that’s something we spoke about in the changing rooms after the game. That is something we’re going to have to address before going into the next match. If you’re one of the best teams in Europe, you don’t make those errors. If that’s what we want to be, that’s where we need to get to.
Was it the plan to keep the scoreboard ticking over with penalties?
We wanted to play territory and when in their half, when we got an opportunity, we were going to take the points and build pressure that way. The last 10 minutes of the first half there was some really good footy. We controlled the game well and we got 6 points with a man in the bin, but when we came out in the second half, we didn’t execute and couldn’t get out of our own half. That’s when they piled the pressure on; if you give them that kind of territory, they’ll squeeze you and get the result.
How does this result against Leinster impact the last third of the competition for Ulster?
We just have to win every game put in front of us. There’s only one team that goes to the final [in the Conference] isn’t there? I haven’t seen the schedule yet but when that comes out, we’ll have to look at the fixtures, keep building and win all those games if we’re going to make the final this year.
This was a better result than the in last season’s Guinness PRO14 final defeat – how much has the team improved since then?
I think we’ve come a long way before tonight. To put it into perspective, we’re down in Dublin taking on one of the best teams in Europe. We were 10 games unbeaten but if we’re going to progress and be better and hold ourselves to the standards we aspire to, we need to win these matches and not make errors in specific parts of the game. That’s a weekly thing and something we need to get better at each week.
It’s a natural progression; each week we need to get better and hold ourselves accountable for the standards we want to set. That’s all we can do; if we train that well and keep ourselves to those high standards, we can start to see the results in the games. Up until this point, we had seen that but we need to keep pushing and working to get better.