Ulster keeping their heads up
Ulster keeping their heads upSHARE
Ulster captain Johann Muller was proud of the effort his team put in with a man down in their narrow defeat to Saracens.
The Irish side played 75 minutes of the match with just 14 men yet still came close to gaining revenge on Saracens who knocked them out at the same stage last year.
The Irish outfit lost out 17-15 to the English league leaders in Belfast as a brace of tries from Chris Ashton and another from Mouritz Botha propelled the visitors into a second straight semifinal in Europe's top tournament.
But the end result was far closer than many would have predicted after Kiwi fullback Jared Payne saw red for taking opposite number Alex Goode out in the air with just over four minutes gone at Ravenhill, and Springbok lock Muller admits he couldn't have asked any more from his troops.
"I couldn't be prouder of a group of players," said Muller, whose side have now seen their European Cup dreams ended by Sarries at the quarterfinal stage two years running.
"To play for 75 minutes with 14 men and to come just two points within a win is an unbelievable achievement. The commitment the boys showed just shows the quality of this side. I can't be prouder of the team.
"It all comes down to character when you are down to 14 men. It would have been very easy to say after 10 minutes we are not going to win this game. The true character of this side came out and they fought hard for 75 minutes."
Muller admitted Payne had been the guilty party in the challenge that saw Goode leave the field on a stretcher but he was desperately disappointed to see one of his star men dismissed, instead believing that a yellow card would have been a more appropriate punishment from referee Jerome Garces.
"For me it was very clear, Jared had his eyes on the ball all the way," added Muller. "He didn't see him coming. I said that to the referee as well. It wasn't right. Perhaps a yellow card, but a red card was a bit harsh.
"If his eyes were on the man, different story, but he never once took his eyes of the ball. He didn't see him coming. It was obviously dangerous, but I thought a red card was really harsh."
European Cup rugby at Ravenhill has long been something special but Saturday night's fixture was the first European encounter since the ground's redevelopment and Muller was quick to pay tribute to the support his side received in their hour – or 75 minutes – of need.
"It's only 4,000 extra fans, but it sounded like 30,000 more. The atmosphere here tonight was absolutely outstanding and I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who came."