Head coach Dan McFarland believes even an Ulster side on their best day would have struggled to have beaten Glasgow Warriors in Friday night’s Guinness PRO14 semi-finals.
The Scots romped into next Saturday’s final at Celtic Park having romped past Ulster 50-20 at a packed Scotstoun.
Former Ulster player Tommy Seymour’s double plus tries from Ali Price, Rob Harley, Kyle Steyn and and both Horne brothers mean Warriors will have the chance to back up their 2015 title within their own city limits.
Either Leinster or Munster await Dave Rennie’s men at Parkhead but there was to be no fairytale farewell for Ulster and Ireland skipper Rory Best, who now has this year’s World Cup to look forward to before hanging up his boots.
The Irish Province did manage three scores through Marcell Coetzee, Rob Herring and Mike Lowry but it was a painful return from former Warriors coach McFarland.
“We were very disappointed in our performance but at the same time, having watched that Glasgow performance, I’m not sure even our best performance would have won here,” admitted McFarland.
“That’s the best I’ve seen them play this year and I thought they were really good value for their win - tactically astute, physically on the money and in terms of precision and accuracy, excellent.
“They are a really difficult side to play against when they are in that form,” he said.
But he countered:“So are we. We weren’t able to do that tonight and the times we did we were able to put a little pressure on them but that pressure was insignificant when you consider they broke early and put us on the back foot.
“When that kind of momentum happens with a team as hungry as Glasgow who are able to put you under that kind of physical pressure then it’s always going to be difficult.”
McFarland agreed that falling behind after just a few minutes was massive.
“This year we’ve had a couple of key games where we’ve fallen behind to those tries early on and then not been able to pick oursleves up off the canvas.
“We were looking for smart play and it was smart play by them, it was a kick off up the middle, little inside ball, it’s a set play off a kick-off receipt and it was very clever.
“Defensively we got that wrong and we were on the back foot from then on.”
On Rory Best’s final game in an Ulster jersey, McFarland said: “Clearly he wanted to go out on a win, and probably wanted to play in a game where we played our best rugby and we didn’t do that, that’s the most disappointing thing.
“Win or lose in those games you want to play your best rugby, and in the playoff games, we did that in the quarter-final of the European Cup, I think, and in the quarter-final of the PRO14 we were sort of halfway there.
“But I have to be really careful because I don’t want it to sound like had we played well we would have won that game because I’m not sure we would have.
“I really thought Glasgow were a notch above us,” added McFarland.
The Ulster coach believes that the Province can bridge that gap.
“Yeah, we will. I have. Take it from me, when you stand in the changing room with guys who have that spirit, that determination, I’ve no doubt that we can bridge that gap.”