SO A NEW competition, a new rule cleverly exploited in it but an old conversation about Ulster that we thought wed moved beyond.
We are not going to be despondent, said their coach, Dan McFarland, after a 26-24 defeat to Connacht, a game Ulster had in the bag until a last-minute captains challenge from the visiting skipper, Eoghan Masterson. Well come back to that in a moment.
First, though, there is the issue of how Ulster threw away a 10-point lead, built just as Connachts out-half, Jack Carty, left the game for a 10-minute spell in the sin-bin. We definitely have to look at ourselves and say well, we have got to be more physical.
The introspection begins tomorrow, as Ulster begin their prep work for the biggest game of their season, away to Leicester in the Challenge Cup semi-finals. Just two games separate them from a trophy, something they last won in 2006. Leinster, for once, dont stand in their way.
Look, Leicester are going to be a lot more physical than Connacht were, said McFarland. Their set-piece is going to be a lot better than Connachts. We have got to improve a lot. We will go and have a look at selection and there will be a few guys who will come into the side and there may be a couple of changes.
I would say that it looked like we were a little bit soft on the line this week.
There were a few guys who were soaking tackles and soaking inches. We are about winning those inches and there were a couple of guys in there who soaked inches and it cost us a bit of gainline and certainly their first try was way too easy and that is something we would be disappointed with.
We wont have a problem fixing that.
Connacht won the collisions last night.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
One thing that cant be fixed is the immediate past. Trailing 24-21 with the clock in the red, Connacht availed of their captains challenge, this experimental law that allows a captain to ask the referee to revisit a decision.
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Eoghan Masterson did so, asking referee Andrew Brace to check out Michael Lowrys tackle release on Kieran Marmion. After much deliberation, Brace ruled that Lowry had committed an infringement.
Penalty, Connacht. They could have kicked for the posts and got themselves a draw; instead they went to the corner and after much huff and puff, they scored in the opposite corner via Peter Sullivan to win the game. Afterwards McFarland, tongue-in-cheek, said: I thought the law variations were going to be a good idea but it turns out theyre terrible.
One thing that was heartening for the Ulster coach was the return of Will Addison after a 15-month absence with injury. It was great to see him, wasnt it? He was brave as always, putting in a brilliant tackle on their big No8. There are not many people better than him at closing the line in defence as a 15. He had a lovely outside break and pass for the break when we went up the side. He did a really good job.
Now for the next job: Leicester. Work begins tomorrow morning.

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