Kiss on red alert as Foley circles wagons
Published 31/12/2015 | 02:30
While Leinster may have offered a ray of light to their supporters by gleefully sacking Limerick, Ulster are undoubtedly the form team in a country casting a nervy glance towards 2016 with a fair degree of circumspection.
Connacht's resilience faces its toughest test yet and Ulster's brutish Galway coup has forced the first major western wobble which may not be improved by events in the RDS tomorrow.
And so Ulster's next task is to plunge the knife still further into the weakening spine of a Munster side who persist in flailing around in a desperate quest for their best form, as one might enter a strange, darkened room trying to find the light switch.
Under Les Kiss, Ulster are always switched on.
After downing Toulouse, twice, and with the former Ireland assistant coach declaring that winning in Galway was just as tough as eking out a result at the home of Europe's most successful club, the visit of hapless Munster, shorn of yet more key players, should not seem to offer much to test their resolve.
"Knowing Munster coach Axel (Anthony Foley) fairly well I can imagine that they will be circling the wagons and getting themselves geared up for what could be the game of the season for them," argues the Australian.
"You got to wonder what they are thinking and how they are going to go about their business. But the answer will probably be they will be the best prepared Munster team to come up here. They are very proud of what they stand for and I can imagine it is going to be one big battle.
"But we also have to recognise that we cannot go too far off the track of what we are trying to achieve.
"I think the Connacht game was a good step forward in terms of the players' mindset and knowing those games are going to be tight.
"We have to hold our nerve, and make sure we still back ourselves and understand the game when in inter-pros and facing desperate teams like Munster, that we will still be able to tough out the tough moments."
When using the word 'desperate', one assumes Kiss is referring to the innate Irish definition of the word, which ascribes a deeply driven desire to Munster's long trek north, as opposed to it being a hopeless lost cause.
Munster's state is for others beyond the Ulster brains trust to publicly judge yet, if drawing a form line through Connacht, the admission by Kiss that winning in Galway was equal in value to that in Ernest Wallon a week earlier is remarkably revealing.
"I think yes in some way," he admits when asked to compare his side's last two away wins.
"Winning against Toulouse away was a real challenge. It was a game where we needed to develop and the try by Luke Marshall near the end showed the ambition of the team and their appetite to back the game-plan and the way we have developed it.
"The game in Galway was a different scenario altogether, a real tight match, untidy, but compelling, and again to hold the nerve in the back-end of that game spoke volumes about where the players have come from.
"After losing to Leinster, which was a tough one for us to swallow, we are now in a place where we are resilient and know how to find solutions in the tough moments, and I would like to see that curve continue.
"We are not perfect by any means, but there are some good signs. Come Saturday, we will again have to keep our heads as Munster will come and challenge us and the whole part of where we are at present in terms of development."
For now, all is rosy but Kiss is keen to stem any euphoria when assessing the causes of the upswing. Mind and matter have married well.
"It's probably a collection of thing but the mindset has been very important to us in terms of embracing some other areas of our game," says the 51-year-old.
"The commitment to all that has been good. Tactically the game we had moved to was something the players had not only to embrace but to make sense to them, and they are now really finding their feet in it now.
"Last week against Connacht we didn't quite get the execution that we would have liked in our game-plan, but a very important element was holding our nerve for 20 minutes, pushing the game when we needed to in manipulating the last scrum to get the score.
"So really it came down to one little moment of holding your nerve and backing it up with tactical nous, and it came off for us."
Irish international open-side Chris Henry is destined for a return to the side after a minor back issue ruled him out of the Connacht victory, along with captain Rory Best while Andrew Warwick (rib) is unlikely to be risked.