IT’S hard to know if Dave Rennie was really bothered by this defeat or not. His side had already wrapped up a home semi-final in the PRO14 with victory over Connacht at Scotstoun a week previous, Warriors performed to a high standard for about 40 minutes and his squad left Belfast relatively unscathed, despite the 36-15 loss.

But the former Chiefs coach probably expected a stronger finish to the game from his side who were steamrollered by Ulster in the final half hour.

Seven minutes into the second-half captain Callum Gibbins scored his second try of the game as Warriors pulled to within a point of their hosts at 16-15. Finn Russell’s conversion hit the post and they failed to take the lead, and from there on Ulster romped to victory.

The last thing Rennie will want is for his side to limp into the semi-final on the back of consecutive defeats and three losses in four games, so a win at Murrayfield will be top of the list on Saturday.

Warriors already hold a 17-0 lead in the battle to claim the 1872 Cup, but he hopes his side will be fully clued in ahead of that clash.

“It shouldn’t be hard to focus. Honestly we prepared really well. We want to take momentum into the play-offs and we have a big game with Edinburgh next week,” said Rennie, who identified Huw Jones’s HIA as their only injury concern.

“If we get things right at home (in the semi), which we have been pretty good at this year we are going to end up travelling for a final. I’m hoping to perform well away from home. It’s disappointing but in the end we have got to be better next weekend.”

While this battle is a long way from spiteful sideswipes, the improvement of Edinburgh under Richard Cockerill has certainly caught the eye of the Warriors coach. The teams cannot face each other in the knock-out stages before the final but Rennie would be happy to lay down a marker on their noisy neighbours – to borrow a phrase from Sir Alex Ferguson.

“There is plenty on that game regardless. There is a trophy, there is a fair bit of pride. They have had a bit to say in the media recently,” said Rennie.

“Fair enough they have gone really well. They are going to have to earn their play-off spot by the looks of it.

“I don’t read the media. Jack [Reid] just tells me the odd thing. They have had a great season, Edinburgh. They probably deserve to be in the play-offs.

“Ulster are desperate as well. It makes it an intriguing final weekend.”
Ulster’s seasonal aspirations depended heavily on this result – as did Edinburgh’s. The home side needed a bonus-point win to secure a spot in the Champion Cup play-offs, while they can still leapfrog Edinburgh into the quarter-finals. Ulster still need to go to Thomond Park and beat Munster with a bonus point and hope that Warriors can keep Edinburgh pointless, but they did their hopes no harm with this win.

In the end Nick Timoney scored his second try in the 83rd minute, which was his side’s fourth and the relief around the Kingspan Stadium was audible. Ulster started the game impressively and thanks to scrum-half John Cooney they surged into a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes.

A Finn Russell penalty was added to in the 22nd minute when Gibbins popped up on Fraser Brown’s shoulder to score under the posts.
Cooney added another two penalties in the final minute of the opening half as Ulster led 16-10 at the break. For the last 25 minutes of the first-half and the first 10 of the second, Warriors were utterly dominant.

At that stage it seemed as if the six changes Rennie made had injected a real spark to their play, but the fall off in the team’s standards was just as stark.

Timoney bagged his first try in the 55th minute, and his fellow flanker Sean Reidy got in on the act six minutes later and after sustained pressure Ulster finally got the fourth try they needed to keep their season alive. Rennie questioned whether his side had the required hunger for the clash.

“We didn’t build enough pressure in the second-half and you have got to give credit to Ulster, they were pretty clinical, but clearly they were sharper and more desperate than us and there was a hell of a lot in the game for them.

“Obviously the mental side of the game is massive. They had a lot to play for, last game at home. We are just going to have to be better if we have got aspirations of winning this, we are going to have to perform better than that.”