Sunday 18 March 2018

Relieved Kiss hails Ulster for 'digging deep'

Ulster’s Tommy Bowe is tackled by Ospreys’ Nicky Smith and Ben John. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Ulster’s Tommy Bowe is tackled by Ospreys’ Nicky Smith and Ben John. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Jim Stokes

A smiling and relieved Les Kiss was in no doubt that Ulster got out of jail on Saturday night when a last-ditch penalty from Paddy Jackson saw his team squeeze past Ospreys to maintain their Pro12 top slot.

Ulster 9 Ospreys 7

Trailing 7-6 as the game entered its final throes, Ulster managed one final onslaught to again test an unwavering and stoic Ospreys defence. This time Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse penalised an over-enthusiastic Ospreys forward at a ruck and Jackson slotted over his third and winning kick, much to the relief of the home support, who had been extremely muted.

Ospreys looked a different animal from the one that succumbed to Leinster last week, and started like dervishes in the opening quarter, with prop Nicky Smith scoring a try and the influential Dan Biggar adding the extras.

Try as they did with a blunt knife Ulster couldn't penetrate the visitor's defence. But as director of rugby Kiss acknowledged, his side showed character right to the end in pinching a last-gasp victory.

"Ospreys coach Steve Tandy put together a good game plan and nearly got the money. They deserve a lot of credit," said Kiss. "They will be thoroughly disappointed and I've no qualms saying they were the better team in a lot of ways, but it doesn't guarantee you get the points.

"I'm proud the way our guys dug in deep and aimed up when they needed to.

"We were not just smart enough at times. They don't like playing the ball in their own half. They get the ball up in your half, and then put you under pressure.

"But the defining thing was their physicality around the breakdown. We couldn't get traction in the game due to the pressure they put on us there, particularly Justin Tipuric. In the second half, we upped the ante a little bit, and controlled things.

"Part of the character that was always with us, but is building further, came through in critical moments.

"Internally, we have talked about some of the missed opportunities from last season," added Kiss, remembering narrow home defeats at the hands of Munster and Scarlets.

"We have a certain psyche or theme around those type of things. It's about standing up and being able to make the difference, and maybe this was one of those nights. Thankfully we were good enough to be able to do what we did.

"But the one of the most critical plays of the day was Jared (Payne's) tackle (on Eli Walker) was superb. It would have been easy to tackle him early, but he just waited until the right time and his smarts came through and forced the issue.

"The toughness and spirit that we showed against Glasgow last week came through, and then Louis Ludik's tackle in the right-hand corner was massive for us.

"For me, he was the man of the match, and he made the difference when it mattered."

Kiss explained that Iain Henderson's late withdrawal was due to an elbow infection which had not responded to antibiotics.

"He should be okay for next week," he said.

Ulster - C Piutau, C Gilroy (Bowe 60), J Payne, D Cave, L Ludik, P Jackson, P Marshall (Pienaar 56); K McCall (Black, 58), R Best (Andrew 69), R Ah You (Kane 60), A O'Connor (Treadwell 66), F van der Merwe (capt), R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson (Ross 53).

Ospreys - D Evans, J Hassler (Habberfield 39), B John, J Matavesi, E Walker, D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith (James 66), S Parry (Baldwin, 56), D Arhip (Fia 56, Arhip 73) B Davies (Thornton 59), A-W Jones (capt), J King (Adron 51), J Tipuric, D Baker (Cracknell 73).

Ref - B Whitehouse (WRU)

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