'I'm incredibly frustrated... There were a couple of times we switched off'
Ulster captain Iain Henderson admitted his side paid the price for a few lapses in concentration as they were dramatically knocked out of the Heineken Champions Cup by Toulouse on the narrowest of margins.
First-half tries from Thomas Ramos and Romain Ntamack plus a late effort from Antoine Dupont, with Ramos’ conversion crucial, ensured the reigning champions won 30-23 at Ravenhill, but they scraped through to a quarter-final clash with Munster by just 50-49 on aggregate after Ulster had won the first leg 26-20.
Ulster scored two first-half tries through Ethan McIlroy and were ahead on aggregate for large parts of the game before replacement Tom O’Toole’s 64th-minute red card appeared to be a turning point in the contest.
It was a pulsating game for spectators but that did little to ease the pain felt by Henderson, especially after all the good work of the week before when winning in France.
“I’m incredibly frustrated,” he said.
“We knew it was going to be a huge challenge with them coming here and we knew that we had to stay in it and stay alive at all times throughout that game.
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“There were a couple of times when we switched off and they got a couple of easy tries but, apart from that, I thought the guys did incredibly well.
“If we shut one of those tries out then we’d be where we want to be, but unfortunately we didn’t and here’s where we are.”
Had Ulster won, the reward would have been hosting Munster for the first European quarter-final to be played in Belfast since 2014.
Nevertheless, Henderson chose to focus on the positives of Ulster’s emerging crop of talent and how they can still help the province push on towards success in the United Rugby Championship.
Henderson said: “A lot of the leaders in our squad now are under the age of 23 or 24, and that’s so exciting not only for the fans but for the other players in the squad.
“We’ve got a few games left in our regular season so hopefully we can put things back into motion with those.”
Toulouse replacement Thibaud Flament believes his side’s confidence in their own ability was key in getting them to the quarter-finals.
“It’s been a very tough two games. Ulster played really well and it was a very tight game and very physical, but we are very happy to win,” he said.
“We knew it would be hard to win here at Ulster, but we had belief and we have been working very hard.”
Alluding to the fact that the champions have been struggling away from home this season, he added: “We wanted to win away and it’s been a while since we won away, so we are very happy to build from that.”
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