Director of Rugby Chris Boyd admitted his Northampton Saints side left themselves too much to do, after a battling comeback against Ulster Rugby came up just short on Friday.
The men in Black, Green and Gold were narrowly beaten 27-22 in their second Heineken Champions Cup match of the season, with second-half tries from Alex Mitchell and Courtnall Skosan giving Saints hope in Belfast.
However, after falling 19-6 and 27-12 behind, overhauling the deficit was just out of reach as the clock ticked into the red in Belfast – with Ulster scoring four tries on the night despite extended periods of resolute defence from Northampton.
Mitchell’s controversial first-half yellow card after referee Andrea Piardi deemed the scrum-half had intentionally knocked-on the ball on his own line was a ‘pivotal’ moment, Boyd believes, with Ulster awarded a penalty try and then taking full advantage moments later by exploiting a gap that Mitchell had vacated to score again.
“It was certainly a better performance than last week, and I didn’t think the result was down to a lack of trying or effort,” said Boyd.
“We stuck to task pretty well for most of the game, but again gave them a bit of a lead – and the yellow card and penalty try from one incident turned out to be pivotal, as their next try came from a chip into the space where the half-back would have been as well.
“So, the result is disappointing but when we pick the bones out of it there will be more to be encouraged about than against Racing, that’s for sure.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“We’re frustrated that we lacked the six points in the end to get us over the line. We came here to get more than a [losing bonus] point, but the positive thing is that we get to play them again in a few weeks’ time.
“There were some good efforts out there without us asking enough questions of that Ulster team. Lewis [Ludlam] was good, Courtney [Lawes] was good and Woody [Tom Wood] chugged away as well.
“George [Furbank] played well too. He’s very capable at fullback or fly-half, and we were happy with the way he played in the 10 jersey tonight.”
"We came here for more than one point, so that's disappointing."@SaintsRugby DoR Chris Boyd reflects on a frustrating night despite taking a bonus point away from Belfast.— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 17, 2021
And he's not sure about that penalty try...#HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/Axpgt6tX4v
The rest of the weekend’s Champions Cup clashes were thrown into disarray on Friday, with all matches between English and French sides postponed in the wake of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
However, Boyd was grateful Northampton were able to play on Friday evening and saluted the supporters who made the journey to Belfast.
He added: “It means a massive amount to the boys to see, despite everything, the supporters that travelled tonight, and we thank them for that.
“It’s just a shame that we are, rightly, adhering to EPCR bubbles and so on so we can’t even leave the hotel to get out, see them all, and enjoy the city. It is a tough environment for the players, but it’s really important we do everything we can to keep playing sport in the country.
“We’re disappointed with the result and a little flat at the moment, with a long turnaround until we next play a week on Monday, but we’ll get back in early next week.
“We’ll train for a couple of days, have a couple of days off over Christmas, and then look forward to getting to Twickenham to play a Quins team which is going pretty well again.”