Friday 23 February 2018

New-look Ulster out to tame Cheetahs

Jaco Taute (left) and Tyler Bleyendaal will be hoping to help Munster get off to a winning start in the PRO14. Photo: Sportsfile
Jaco Taute (left) and Tyler Bleyendaal will be hoping to help Munster get off to a winning start in the PRO14. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ulster will be the first to brave the new Guinness PRO14 world as they welcome the Cheetahs to Belfast and the province's supporters will be hoping that this is the beginning of their journey back to the top.

Les Kiss has pulled no punches. He is fully aware that the time for excuses is over.

Ulster have a formidable coaching set-up in place and have recruited well over the summer. Question marks still hang over their ballast up front but having Marcell Coetzee back to full fitness is a massive boost.

The Cheetahs will add plenty of power and flair to the PRO14 but right now they remain something of an unknown quantity. They are still counting the cost of last season's Super Rugby campaign as several players are recovering from injuries.

To add to that, the Rugby Championship has robbed them of their key men, while their Currie Cup commitments has left the club trying to balance two competitions across different hemispheres.

All in all, it's a tricky situation for the South African outfit but even still, they begin their PRO14 quest with confidence.

"They're mid-season back home, so it's definitely a tough one," Ulster's new South African signing Jean Deysel, who arrived from Munster, said.

"They've played a few games, they're top of the log in the Currie Cup home so it's a tough one. But it's a great start for us. We're hungry to go and I'm sure they'll be looking forward to getting going in a new competition.

"They're a brilliant side, sometimes you don't know what you're getting because they have such good individuals. They're well gelled. They'll come here with a great unity."

Christian Lealiifano and John Cooney will make their competitive debuts for Ulster and if the new half-back pair can click immediately, it will give the hosts an ideal chance to get off to a perfect start.

Ulster enjoyed a flying start last season but tailed off badly. Kiss is adamant that lessons have been learned but now is the time to prove that.

"We are definitely in a different platform that we are working from now," the director of rugby insisted.

"Our big focus in reality is to breach that gap with one extra win, take a bonus point or two here or to get a better decision which sometimes goes against you.

"We have had a big focus on making sure that across the management, the team and organisation that we are a stronger team.


"The question we asked about silverware is an end goal for every individual and team to aspire to, you should have that ambition but we are not getting distracted by that. If we are a better team every session, a team will build stronger resilience on a weekly basis.

"If we get that right we will end up in a position where we can possibly do something at the back end of the season."

Ulster's trophy-less spell will run into its 12th year by the time they get a chance to rectify it next May.

You get that feeling that they are better placed this time around to launch a realistic attempt at ending that lengthy drought.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster - C Piutau; A Trimble, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst; R Diack, A O'Connor; J Deysel, C Henry (capt), M Coetzee. Reps: A Andrew, C Black, R Ah You, M Rea, S Reidy, D Shanahan, P Nelson, D Cave.

Toyota Cheetahs - S Petersen; R Specman, W Small-Smith, A Mgijima, M Mapimpi; C Blommetjies, S Venter. C Marais, J du Toit, J Coetzee; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, N Jordaan (capt). Reps: T van Jaarsveld, O Nche, T Botha, R Bernardo, G Olivier, T Meyer, C Afrika, R Benjamin.

REF - A Brace (IRFU).

  • Ulster v Toyota Cheetahs, Kingspan Stadium, 7.35, Live on BBC

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