Relief for Kiss out in Africa as Ulster finally down Kings
Sth Kings 36 Ulster 43
It was a trip of new experiences and new sights for Ulster and in the end they capped it off with the seven-point win they needed.
A fired up and rejuvenated Southern Kings side proved worthy opponents in Port Elizabeth on Saturday and questions will be asked of Ulster's defence in conceding five tries. All Les Kiss will care about, though, is the five points in the table and that their two-game skid has ended.
Despite winning, Kiss has work to do to shore up his side's defence, as he watched them concede five tries to a team that had yet to impress. And there was still more concern over the fact that more individual errors led directly to tries for the Kings, something that plagued them in the defeat to La Rochelle.
"We had some errors but they had just as many," Kiss said.
"You go through it, every game has errors. We're not going to brush the errors under the carpet by any means, but we need to find a better way to get in front of those error rates and that's what we're endeavouring to do."
From the start, it was clear this wasn't going to be a standard game - and so it proved. While the searing heat was somewhat negated by a strong breeze, the unfamiliar surroundings were to play a big part. Isaac Wolfson Stadium is far from one of the best grounds Ulster will play at, but its hard surface lent itself to running rugby, while its uniqueness and location in the township of Kwazakhele made it one of the most memorable.
It was projected to be a sell-out, but it was a crowd of just over 2,000 that cheered 26-year-old Craig Gilroy as he took to the field as the youngest player to reach 150 caps for Ulster.
The quick start Kiss wanted proved to be wishful thinking as the Kings raced to a 12-0 lead by the seventh minute, centre Berton Klaasen rolling over a tackle at the line before young fly-half Oliver Zono stabbed a kick in behind that Yaw Penxe ran on to.
It could have been even better for the Kings, but they squandered two wonderful chances for a third five-pointer in the early exchanges, Michael Makase spilling the ball with the line gaping, before Penxe failed to execute with an overlap.
That seemed to spark Ulster back into action and the visitors finally struck back with their first attack of the game in some style - Christian Lealiifano going on the wraparound with Darren Cave under the shadow of his own posts before then taking a return pass from Charles Piutau.
John Cooney and Andrew Trimble both got their hands on the ball before it was spun wide to Sean Reidy, who still had a way to go to finish, but he managed to shrug off two defenders to finish a length of the field try.
The impressive Zono increased the hosts' lead with a 24th-minute penalty, but Ulster were over again three minutes later; John Andrew steering a maul to the line and setting down at the base.
Almost straight off the restart Ulster should have been in again. Cave was not held in the tackle, allowing him to break up the field, but, with Cooney and Kieran Treadwell in support, the centre went the wrong way and was intercepted by Makase.
The winger, in turn, hammered the ball up the other end of the pitch and engaged in a race with the covering Piutau - the South African winning by a fingertip.
Ulster were immediately handed a lifeline when Penxe knocked on as they went wide with an overlap and there was a yellow card for the full-back but no penalty try, despite protests.
But the visitors couldn't make the most of the extra man, which stretched over the interval, and also had to watch Wiehahn Herbst limp off with a calf injury.
Ulster finally hit back, Andrew guiding another maul over the line and by the 54th minute they were level as Piutau sent Trimble down the touchline and his pass inside found Louis Ludik, who was able to set Cooney away.
The final 20 minutes were to prove a thrilling and fitting climax, which began with the Kings restoring their lead completely against the run of play, Klaasen again finding that inch of space at the line to score.
Remarkably there was even a disallowed try, as Ross Kane burrowed over in the corner only for the TMO to controversially say it was held up. It wasn't to matter as five minutes later an excellent dummy run from Tommy Bowe allowed Andrew Trimble to ghost in under the posts for the leveller and three minutes later Clive Ross powered to put Ulster up.
Still the Kings refused to quit and they levelled as they turned Ulster over from the restart and a brilliant line from Penxe took him over for his second.
The clincher came five minutes from time and it was Piutau who sealed it, shrugging off two tackles and offloading to former Western Province man Robbie Diack to take it the rest of the way.
SOUTHERN KINGS - Yaw Penxe, Michael Makase, Berton Klaasen, Luzuko Vulindlu (Jarryd Sage 60), Alshaun Bock, Oliver Zono (Kurt Coleman 72), Rudi van Rooyen (Rowan Gouws 21); (1-8) Schalk Ferreira (Mzamo Majola 70), Stephan Coetzee (Tango Balekile 60), Rossouw de Klerk (Martin Dreyer 58), Stephan Greeff (Lindokuhle Welemu 66), Bobby de Wee, Andisa Ntsila, Jurie van Vuuren (Dries van Schalkwyk 66), Ruaan Lerm.
ULSTER - Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik, Darren Cave (Tommy Bowe 60), Andrew Trimble, Christian Leali'ifano, John Cooney; (1-8) Andrew Warwick (Callum Black 60), John Andrew (Adam McBurney 75), Wiehahn Herbst (Ross Kane 36), Kieran Treadwell, Alan O'Connor, Matty Rea (Robbie Diack 63), Chris Henry (Clive Ross 54), Sean Reidy.
Ref - Q Immelman (South Africa).