Ulster captain Johann Muller said the narrow 17-15 defeat to Saracens in Saturday’s controversial Heineken Cup quarter-final will haunt the players for the rest of their lives.
The odds were stacked against Ulster from the fourth minute when fullback, Jared Payne, was red carded for a dangerous tackle on his opposite number, Alex Goode.
The Saracens fullback was stretchered off and Payne was ordered off by referee, Jerome Garces, leaving the English side with a huge advantage for most of the match.
On seven minutes, Ruan Pienaar suffered a recurrence of the shoulder injury which had seen him miss the previous two matches and he struggled until his eventual withdrawal on 48 minutes.
British Lions hooker, Rory Best, hobbled off after just 12 minutes with an ankle injury - there was little else could possibly go wrong for Ulster in such a massive match with so much riding on it.
But Ulster dug in and actually led 9-5 at half time, Pienaar kicking three from five penalties with Saracens winger, Chris Ashton going in for a try.
In spite of going behind to two more tries, one converted by Ashton, Ulster rallied at 17-9 behind on 67 minutes to move within two points with two Paddy Jackson penalties.
Ulster just came up short in spite of an amazing last three minutes when they went through 35 phases but just could not get any short change from the English Premiership leaders.
Muller, who will retire from professional rugby at the end of the current season, looked a broken man when he stood down on 68 minutes .
And he was still emotional during the post match media conference.
“Of course it was emotional for me,” said Muller. “It’s my last Heineken Cup game and the way it has all happened is not the way I had dreamt about it.
“If we had lost fair and square I would have taken it, but to lose in the way we did it is so hard.
“If we had lost this game by 10 or 15 points it would be easier to take,” said Muller, reflecting on the fact they were forced to play most of the game with 14 players.
“It would have been so easy for us just to lie down and go look we cannot beat them with 14 guys for 75 minutes.
“Everyone showed the hunger and character there is in this squad and to fall short by two points makes it worse.
“To lose by such a narrow margin and to fight so hard with 14 men for 75 minutes was a great performance and it hurts so much more,” added Muller.
Emotions were still high after the game in respect of Graces decision to send Payne off.
Muller said: “From what I saw on the big screen, Jared never took his eyes off the ball and he never saw him (Goode) coming until he made contact with him.
“I thought the red card was really harsh. He (the referee) said the player had come down on his head and its automatically a red card.
“I do not want to criticise the referee, he made the call and we have to live with it.
“I do believe the impact of the injury did influence the decision. It is always tough for any official, I think he penalised the injury not the action.”