Sunday 22 October 2017

Connacht in firing line as Kiss seeks Ulster response

Ulster v Connacht, 7.35; Live BBC NI, TG4

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss. Photo: Sportsfile
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

News of Ulster losing their first game of the season in Zebre last weekend must have gone down like a lead balloon among the Connacht squad contemplating their trip north this weekend.

The Kingspan Stadium is not a happy hunting ground for the men in green and the last thing they needed was additional motivation for Les Kiss's misfiring side ahead of their visit.

Although they have come close to breaking their 57-year losing streak in Belfast in recent years, 1960 remains their last success at this venue.

This is not the place Connacht would choose to go in search of a much-needed victory.

Kieran Keane has endured a difficult start to life as head coach at the Sportsground with four defeats in five games and one on-screen wobbly so far.

The New Zealander has not been handed an easy fixture list to kick off with and following an away trip to Llanelli with a visit to Ravenhill is no one's idea of fun.

Despite losing to the Scarlets last Friday, there were signs of progress in the way Connacht went about their business.

They need to tighten up defensively, but they showed that they can still cause opponents nightmares and the back-three combination of Tiernan O'Halloran, Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher is as exciting as any in the division.

"Statistically the team who scores the most tries will win a game so we have an attacking mindset and we try to play with a high tempo," assistant Nigel Carolan said.

"Unfortunately, every time we got our nose in front we gifted the opposition back into the game when we coughed it up in (dangerous) positions on the pitch.

"So we need to be more efficient in our own half and be a bit more ruthless in the opposition half.

"We showed we're able to create the opportunities, we just need to be a bit more ruthless in taking them."

Ulster also have plenty to work on after being turned over in Italy last weekend.

In total, director of rugby Les Kiss has found 47 errors on the game tape and this week's review session must have been something of a horror show.

So, the players have been told what is and is not acceptable and will be sent back out to rectify the wrongs.

Unbeaten at home since January, they will count on vociferous Kingspan support and Kiss wants a response.

"If you come off what we did against Zebre, Connacht's a good game to have," he said.

"Since I've been here it's been tough, it's been a struggle each game, we've lost one of those and they're just the ideal game.

"It's ideal for them as well, they went close against Scarlets last week, they probably should have got more out of the game.

"That's the first game they played out of the conditions they usually play in down in Galway so we know it's going to be better conditions in Belfast and they'll be a better team, so it will be tough for us.

"We probably have to right a few wrongs this week against Connacht, without doubt.

"I don't think it (the next two weeks) defines the season but it certainly gives us real strong clues as to where we've got to, to this stage.

Building

"We've made some good progression, put some real good building blocks in place, but Connacht will give us another test, that's for sure."

Keane has picked a big pack who look capable of taking Ulster on in the close exchanges, while Kiss is clearly looking for some carrying impact as he moves Iain Henderson into the back-row.

That could be with an eye to next week's European clash with Wasps given the news Marcell Coetzee looks set for another long-term absence after re-injuring his knee.

Both teams have backlines packed with quality and much will depend on who gets the upper hand up front and provides the platform to play off.

Ulster have plenty of size behind the scrum as well and may look to target the wings where Tommy Bowe and Jacob Stockdale have a height advantage over their opposite numbers.

It looks evenly poised, but home advantage may just swing it the home side's way yet again.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster - C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst; A O'Connor, K Treadwell; I Henderson, C Henry (capt), J Deysel. Reps: J Andrew, A Warwick, R Ah You, R Diack, S Reidy, P Marshall, P Nelson, L Ludik.

Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, B Aki, T Farrell, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux; E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, D Coulson, C Carey, J Cannon, E Masterson, C Blade, S Crosbie, E Griffin.

Ref - A Brace (IRFU)

 

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