Rory Best: Ulster player devastated by latest failure on big stage
Rory Best's nose bore the bloodied battle scars but the pain cut way deeper as he tried to explain Ulster's latest failure on such a big stage.
"In terms of disappointment, this is right up there," said the Ireland hooker after DTH van der Merwe's late try and Finn Russell's superb conversion snatched a 16-14 Pro12 semi-final win for Glasgow Warriors.
"We'll sit back at some stage and look at this season [and progress made] but for now, this is going to take quite a bit of getting over."
Missing out on a final place in front of their home supporters at Kingspan Stadium next Saturday only heightened Best's hurt as Ulster's wait for a first trophy since the 2005-6 Celtic League triumph goes on.
"For me personally, with the carrot at the end of it with the final being at Kingspan, it's going to be a long off-season and pre-season," added the Poyntzpass man, who was part of that 2005-6 side.
Best, 32, and his Ulster team-mates have had plenty to contend with in terms of big-game disappointment over the last four seasons.
Leinster have played the role of Ulster's nemesis in recent years as they hammered the northerners in the 2012 Heineken Cup final and then won tight Pro12 battles in both the 2013 final and last season's semi-final.
Ulster came away from both those Pro12 play-off games feeling that they should have won.
In addition, Ulster suffered a narrow Heineken Cup quarter-final home defeat against Saracens in 2014 after having Jared Payne red-carded in the opening minutes of the game.
The shift in the balance of power among the Irish provinces did potentially appear to have arrived last month as Ulster's convincing 26-10 win at Kingspan Stadium ended Leinster's fading hopes of a third successive Pro12 title.
With next weekend's decider taking place at the south Belfast stadium, everything seemed set up for Ulster.
But Glasgow had other ideas as the home side summoned up remarkable resolve to claim victory at Scotstoun despite being second best for the most part.
How does a team manage to lose a game after largely dominating the line-out, the scrum, the collisions and territory?
The Ulster players may struggle to avoid mulling over the question for the rest of the summer and beyond as Van der Merwe's score flashes back into their minds.
For his part, Best was left baffled by a number of referee George Clancy's decisions at scrum time but the Lions hooker still accepted that Ulster were largely the architects of their own downfall.
"To be dominant and rock solid on our ball [in the scrum] and then to be penalised on their ball stinks a bit of inconsistency to me, but ultimately that is going to come across as sour grapes.
"We didn't play well enough to win that game which is probably why we are so annoyed at the minute.
"We did enough to put ourselves in a position to win. I just think we lacked a bit of intensity in the second half.
"We just expected Glasgow to hand it to us even though we had talked all week that they wouldn't do that."
Best, in his typically polite way, brushed away a few gentle platitudes lobbed in his direction about how Ulster had regrouped in the Pro12 after Christmas following a poor European campaign.
"At this stage, to talk about seasons..." the Ulster captain shook his head. "We're gutted we lost a game that we should have won.
"We have to allow the boys time to dwell on that."