Wednesday 21 February 2018

Kiss prepares high-flying Ulster for 'different beast'

Ospreys 26 Ulster46

Ulster's Paddy Jackson goes over to score a try for his side at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea. Photo: Ben Evans / Sportsfile
Ulster's Paddy Jackson goes over to score a try for his side at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea. Photo: Ben Evans / Sportsfile
Ulster's Paddy Jackson clears the ball. Photo: Ben Evans / Sportsfile
Ulster's Ruan Pienaar looks for a way through during the match against the Ospreys. Photo: Ben Evans / Sportsfile
Ulster's Stuart Olding gets the ball away during the match against the Ospreys. Photo: Ben Evans / Sportsfile

Jonathan Bradley

A fourth consecutive Pro12 semi-final and a fourth win on the bounce left Les Kiss a satisfied man following a six-try triumph over Ospreys on Saturday but Ulster's director of rugby is already warning his players that Leinster in the last four will be a wholly different proposition.

The Dubliners were on the wrong end of a chastening 30-6 defeat when visiting Belfast two weeks ago but, with considerably more at stake, and at an RDS venue that has been a far from happy hunting ground for the northern province, Kiss is expecting a "different beast".

"It is mission accomplished," he said in terms of securing the league's fourth and final play-off spot. "We've got Leinster away so that becomes a tough ask. We've tried to work on our away form all year and we're improving. We've got to make sure we get it right."

On whether the most recent meeting between the two old rivals would have any bearing on matters come next Friday, he added: "They'll be smarting and you'd expect nothing less.

"When we last played, without a doubt, I thought they were short a run, a lot of (their) players hadn't played a lot of rugby.

"I also think they weren't in the zone as they can be at times.

"They know that, we know that. I don't expect the same team next time in terms of how they played.

"We've got to be armed for that and they'll build a real siege mentality at home.

"We have to be up for it."

That of course should be no issue given that, while Ulster were decidedly on top when the teams last met, Leinster have provided a knock-out blow to their silverware hopes on four occasions since 2011.

Despite only securing their play-off spot on the final day - and given Munster's win over Scarlets at Thomond Park, they would have been in regardless of events at Liberty Stadium - this is a team with real momentum and key players who appear to be finding form at just the right time.

They trailed 7-0 early in Swansea but, against opposition who needed a bonus point win to keep alive their own hopes of Champions Cup rugby next season, took their chances and relied upon a back-row combination feasting on turnover ball to keep their hosts at bay.

Paddy Jackson (left) - again in fine form - levelled matters with the conversion of his own try and captain Rory Best stepped inside the Ospreys' defensive line to give his men the lead.

Josh Matavesi, the Fijian centre who posed real problems throughout, squared things up again but a third Ulster score before the turn proved defining.

A fine chip ahead from Andrew Trimble bounced back into the gleeful wing's arms and he had plenty of pace to evade Ospreys' Dan Evans and sprint home.

Jackson's conversion, and a penalty shortly into the second-half, had Ulster firmly in control.

Tries from Chris Henry, Stuart Olding and a first of the season from Franco van der Merwe followed to give Ulster their highest Pro12 score against non-Italian opposition for two years. While there were a few areas of concern - the scrum again creaked and Ospreys' two late tries gave them a four-score bonus of their own - Kiss thought their ability to force turnovers was crucial.

"It was important," he said. "Each team was getting to each others' try line and early on we were getting a return when we went there. They were getting close but we got critical turnovers to just get them away from there.

"We let a couple tries in, and we'll look at that, but overall to stretch the scoreline, to get as many tries as we did, I was really pleased."

Ospreys - D Evans; B John (T Grabham 60), O Watkin (S Davies 50), J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb (capt) (B Leonard 69); N Smith, S Baldwin, D Arhip (A Jarvis 48); R Bernardo (J Bearman 57), R Thornton; D Lydiate, S Underhill (O Cracknell 64), J King.

Ulster - J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall (D Cave 58), S McCloskey (S Olding 56), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 72); C Black (K McCall 48), R Best (capt) (R Herring 67), R Lutton (A Warwick 67), P Browne (R Diack 56), F van der Merwe, I Henderson (R Wilson 56), C Henry, S Reidy.

Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)

Irish Independent

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