Kiss gets Ulster warmed up for Edinburgh as Ravenhill thaws
As the Ravenhill snow slowly disappeared, Ireland's Grand Slam-winning defence coach Les Kiss yesterday offered Ulster a boost ahead of Friday's crucial Heineken Cup clash against Edinburgh.
Kiss oversaw a series of defensive drills as the squad trained at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland in Jordanstown.
"We worked on some basics really, in terms of what Edinburgh are going to throw at us," revealed Kiss.
"They have been a good team this year with ball in hand. They like to play with a bit of width in their game and they have some tricky players in the No 9/No 10 area. We were covering a few of the basics on what we are trying to achieve defensively.
"The session this morning was good. When the guys don't play a lot of games, and they are missing their opportunities on the park, there is always a sense of anticipation and hunger there, and it came out in the blokes today.
"They haven't had a game under their belt, so there was a nice bit of energy here today, but the key here is it doesn't matter what happens in training as much as what happens on game day."
Friday's clash is effectively an Amlin Challenge Cup play-off as neither side realistically harbours any remaining Heineken Cup hopes: even if Ulster record successive bonus-point wins, they could only reach 19 points -- and since the current scoring system was introduced in 2003-04, only one team has reached the quarter-finals with that total.
As the temperatures rose yesterday, Ulster postponed the erection of a marquee in the hope that a natural thawing process would better preserve the pitch's integrity.
"We've put our plans on hold and hopefully the pitch will soften naturally," said a spokesperson. "This is the preferred way, to ensure a high-quality playing surface. We are now confident that the pitch will be in a good playable condition.
"A ground maintenance team will be surveying the pitch daily. They will remove the frost covers each morning to take maximum advantage of the thaw and replace the covers each evening if necessary if there is a potential threat of a further freeze."
Edinburgh, 17-13 winners in the reverse fixture at Murrayfield, also won the Magners League tie between the pair in Belfast in September, but metronomic Scottish international Chris Paterson insists Ulster are the form side.
"This is a whole new ball game," said Paterson, who has scored 230 points in his 56 Heineken Cup appearances.
"Of the two of us, Ulster are the ones in better form, and they will have home advantage but, having won at Ravenhill already this season, we know we are capable of going there and doing it.
"The power of Ulster's game is a real threat while they now have a settled back-line, with Andrew Trimble and Simon Danielli dangerous out wide.
"We know we have performed poorly away from home so we need to sort that out, and an away win on Friday would be like gold dust."