Richie Murphy admits Ulster need ‘loads of improvements’

The northern province were well beaten by Clermont Auvergne on Saturday

Nick Timoney scored two tries in Ulster's victory over Lions on Friday night
Nick Timoney scored two tries in Ulster's defeat in France

EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-final Clermont Auvergne 53 Ulster 14

INTERIM head coach Richie Murphy believes there are “loads of improvements needed” at the province after Ulster’s hopes of European glory were ruthlessly extinguished on Saturday as they lost 53-14 at Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

Ulster went into the match off a victory in France, last week’s 40-17 last-16 win over Montpellier but any hopes of a repeat performance wilted along with Ulster in the mid-afternoon sun.

Nick Timoney, as he has been so often of late, was the visitors best player. The powerful number eight crashed over for two tries in the first half, including the opening try of the match after seven minutes.

Heading in at half-time, with Timoney having scored again just before the break, Ulster trailed 20-14 and would have been thinking of their impressive second half against Montpellier last week in the hope a repeat this time around.

However, that wasn’t to be the case as the Irish province shipped 33 unanswered points after the break as Clermont booked a semi-final clash with the Sharks at the end of the month.

“We’re very aware of where we are at this moment of time,” said Murphy.

“These games can swing on moments and their try just after half-time gives them the confidence to go on and win the game.

“We weren’t good enough today. There’s a lot of things we need to look at. There’s loads of improvements needed but we were very aware of that before today.”

After spending the last month travelling around South Africa and then France, Saturday’s clash appeared to be one step too far for Murphy’s side.

Understandably, the long journeys have taken their toll and Ulster faded badly in the last 20 minutes of the game, offering fewer and fewer attacking threats, while the hosts grew more dominant, in part due to their superior physicality.

“It’s very hard to plan to counteract power,” said Murphy.

“You tackle and the boys worked really hard to be able to do that.

“But once the momentum goes against you, we obviously lost a few set-pieces as well, coughed up some ball under defensive pressure, they punish you off the back of that.”

Ulster and Murphy will now be looking forward to some home comforts as they return to domestic United Rugby Championship competition this Friday night at Kingspan Stadium against Cardiff. They lie eighth in the table, the last of the play-off spots and can ill afford to lose any more games.

“We were in a quarter-final and we’ve been beaten, you move on,” said Murphy.

“It’s a chance to learn and improve, but ultimately it doesn’t define the rest of the season.

“We’ve another competition to go into and that’s where our focus will be now. We have to try and qualify in the top eight of the URC.

“We’ve had four away games in a row so to have two home games back-to-back is a new focus.

“We’ll have to rotate some of our players because we’ve been through a tough four weeks, but there’ll be an opportunity for new guys to come in and stake a claim for the jersey.”

EPCR Challenge Cup

Quarter-finals Benetton 39 Connacht 24; Clermont 53 Ulster 14; Gloucester 23 Ospreys 13; Sharks 36 Edinburgh 30


Saturday, May 4 Sharks v Clermont (12.30pm); Gloucester v Benetton (3pm)

Investec Champions Cup

Quarter-finals Bordeaux 41 Harlequins 42; Leinster 40 La Rochelle 13; Northampton 59 Bulls 22; Toulouse 64 Exeter 26


Saturday, May 4 Leinster v Northampton (5.30pm)

Sunday, May 5 Toulouse v Harlequins (3pm)