Les Kiss hits back at 'no heart' criticism from Stephen Ferris
Leinster 22 Ulster 7
Les Kiss has dismissed Stephen Ferris' accusation that his Ulster side lacked passion and heart during the first half of their derby defeat to Leinster on Saturday.
The former Ireland flanker gave a withering assessment of his old team at half-time of a one-sided RDS occasion, criticising their lack of aggression and intensity in defence.
Ulster fell 22-0 behind to their neighbours after an insipid opening 42 minutes, but rallied to dominate the final quarter and prevented their hosts from gaining a try-scoring bonus point.
They couldn't mount a comeback, but restored some pride with their second-half performance and while he was disappointed Kiss wasn't about to agree with the man he coached during his time as Ireland assistant.
"That's Stephen's opinion," he said. "There's no way I believe that. We were physical and they just got through us at a couple of soft moments. They are a good team here. Stephen can have his opinion. That's fine.
"I wasn't happy (at 22-0 down). The clear message at half-time was just to back ourselves and play with the ball into the wind. There was a number of times we did break them a bit. Stuart McCloskey broke them a few times and we just didn't get the offload we would have liked. We weren't clinical enough."
It was a disappointing end to 2016 for the men in white who rested a couple of front-line internationals including Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall and Paddy Jackson and failed to fire.
For Leo Cullen, there was some disappointment in not getting the maximum return but after a disappointing visit to Thomond Park he was happy to get back to winning ways.
Still, four points from a possible 10 over Christmas is slightly underwhelming.
"Time will tell," he said when asked if he will live to regret the failure to push on and score a fourth try.
"You look back on the season and parts of it are a bit of a blur, really, aren't they? We have to focus on what's next, and what's next is Zebre. We just need to focus on that game and after that we're into Europe, which is two huge games.
"This time of year there's chopping and changing, you have to deal with players in and out. But we know it's there, so ... there are certain things we can manage better, but we're pleased to get a win, very pleased to get a win today.
"That's a good Ulster team so it was important to get a win.
"It was great to have that level of support here today because the players talk a lot about trying to provide moments where the crowd want to get behind, they want to be part of it. We did a lot of really good things in the game.
"There's a bit of frustration because you score three tries in the first 42-43 minutes and everyone probably expects you to kick on.
"But you wind the clock back and it's a good Ulster team and they held onto the ball really, really well for 30 minutes and we probably just grew frustrated ourselves, which didn't help the way we were trying to play the game.
"But we looked a little bit sluggish at times, hopefully the players will have managed to have blown out a few cobwebs in that game and they'll be better for it."
When Leinster review the first 40 minutes, they will be pleased with their execution in particular.
They got the scoring under way with a cleverly-worked move that was finished by a brilliant piece of individual play from Rory O'Loughlin whose reputation continues to grow the more minutes he spends on the field.
He scythed through a gap between Ruan Pienaar and Stuart McCloskey and then rounded Andrew Trimble and Paul Marshall to score a try that had the RDS on their feet.
Seán O'Brien butchered a fine chance to extend the lead, but Tommy Bowe also had a howler with the line at the line at his mercy and Pienaar missed a pair of penalties that could have kept his side in touch.
Instead, Isa Nacewa followed his conversion with a penalty before Luke McGrath scored from another well-worked pre-planned move as Jack McGrath caught a lineout ball at the front, pivoted and sent the scrum-half racing through.
The third try arrived just after half-time as Ross Byrne chipped brilliantly for O'Loughlin to add to his first-half effort, but a combination of ill-discipline and an increase in Ulster intensity meant that the fourth try - which seemed inevitable at with 37 minutes remaining, never materialised.
Leinster, who will lose the majority of their players to a scheduled Ireland camp today, now have another short turnaround before they host Zebre on Friday as they ramp things up ahead of their European Champions Cup pool deciders against Montpellier and Castres. Johnny Sexton could return after delaying his comeback from his hamstring problems by another week.
"We just want to focus on playing better. There's areas of our game that were quite good tonight, there's areas of our game we could be a lot better at," Cullen said.
"If we want to be serious about progressing in two tournaments, there's a lot of areas we can be better at and that's the challenge for us.
"Where are we at? It's hard to put a number on it, but we're still a mile off where we can get to so there's a lot of things we can do better."
They have some things to work on, but it is Ulster and an under-pressure Kiss who have a big job on their hands going into 2017.
Leinster - I Nacewa (capt); A Byrne (A Porter 57-65) (J Loughman 65-68), G Ringrose, N Reid, R O'Loughlin (Z Kirchner 65); R Byrne (T Daly 73), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 60); J McGrath, S Cronin (R Strauss 60), M Bent (J Loughman 68); D Toner, H Triggs (M Kearney 66); S O'Brien (J Conan 68), J van der Flier, J Heaslip.
Ulster - C Piutau; A Trimble (L Ludik 59), D Cave, S McCloskey, T Bowe; R Pienaar, P Marshall (B Herron 73); A Warwick (C Black ), R Herring (capt) (J Andrew 27), R Ah You (J Simpson 48); K Treadwell, F van der Merwe (P Browne 73); C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson (C Henry 54).
Ref - J Lacey (IRFU)