Ulster boss Dan McFarland was full of praise for his team’s bravery in attack and singled that out as a key factor in their Champions Cup triumph over Clermont in Belfast.
The Irish province’s lead was cut dramatically from 34-12 to 34-31 after a late Clermont flourish. Nevertheless, the result earned Ulster second position in their group having already qualified for the last 16.
Might face the champions
By virtue of finishing second in Pool A, Ulster could end up facing reigning champions Toulouse should the French side finish seventh in Pool B.
“If it is Toulouse then so be it,” said the Ulster coach. “I relish the thought of playing Toulouse but it could be Wasps, it could be Bordeaux.”
In Saturday’s game, Ulster scored tries through Rob Herring’s brace and solitary scores from Michael Lowry, Duane Vermeulen and Robert Baloucoune.
McFarland was clearly pleased with his side’s intent to chase scores, adding: “We came into this game really wanting to put a spotlight on what we’ve been talking about over the last few months of being brave in the aspect of being able to move the ball and be confident in the fundamentals of our game.
“We felt that if we took Clermont through phases our superior fitness would break them down in the end – and it did.
“We played some fantastic rugby to get to 30 points to not very many and against Clermont (that) was a testament to the way that we played.
“There was some brilliant attacking rugby and brilliant defensive rugby. The only thing that marred the first half were errors in exiting our half which allowed them to build those 12 points (Ulster led 17-12 at the break).
“Some of the tries we scored were a combination of our maul, or hanging on to the ball in the opposition 22 and it was fantastic rugby out of our own 22 and all that really staged what characterised the match.
“The fact that in the last 10 to 15 minutes we sat on our laurels was for me as a coach very disappointing.”
Clermont head coach Jono Gibbes cut a frustrated figure after the final whistle and was left to bemoan his team’s poor discipline and application in the opening hour which left them trailing 34-12.
Though admitting that his side did finish with a flourish, frustration was the ultimate takeaway for the former Ulster coach.
“It was exciting I guess but there were a lot of questions (to answer),” said Gibbes.
“What if we’d managed our discipline in the first half and what if we’d controlled a bit more of the ball going out of our half?
“(If we had done that) it would have been easier, you know, those kind of questions.”
In terms of whether the losing bonus point will be sufficient to see Clermont through, Gibbes could only adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.
“It will be interesting to see Montpellier’s response at home and whether Glasgow have the pedigree to get over a very good La Rochelle team,” he added.
“Those are two results that directly impact on our qualification.”
Meanwhile, Bristol Bears coach Pat Lam thinks his team would be Champions Cup contenders if they were more ruthless and clinical in their performances.
A convincing 52-21 bonus-point triumph over the Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday rounded off Bristol’s pool matches.
Having already qualified for the last 16 Bristol strung together three quick tries to end the game with a convincing win.