'There is a bit of noise' - Les Kiss defends his Ulster role as critics start to circle
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has said his players still believe he is taking the team in the right direction despite recent criticism of performances.
Fresh from blowing a late lead against Dragons, former flanker Neil Best has said "the buck has to stop" with Kiss, while Ulster fan favourite turned forthright pundit Stephen Ferris believes "a lot could be said about Les Kiss's job if things don't go well in the next six weeks".
With such a key run upcoming, the Australian said he and the players still have faith in the work going on behind the scenes.
"There is a bit of noise and you expect that," he said.
"We do not respond to the noise but we want people to know we are a group of people who, we believe, are doing the right things. The group have been brilliant and worked really hard.
"It is easy to pick out the (negative) bits. I do feel for the guys and I back them fully."
With reference to late scores that have at least ensured Ulster's unconvincing performances haven't led to defeats in the last three games, Kiss believes there is evidence to show players are fighting despite some obvious flaws.
"There is no way we can question the attitude and what their commitment is," he said.
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"That sustains my spirit and that is what I will always be focused on, the players and the team first."
Kiss will no doubt be aware, though, that such assertions will count for little if his team misfire between now and the end of January. Ulster face seven key fixtures before a small break for the start of the Six Nations, and it was during this spell last year that the province's season unravelled spectacularly.
For this weekend's trip, Ulster will have their full contingent of fit Irish internationals available, with Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson making their first appearances for the province since starring for Ireland.
Rory Best, Stuart McCloskey, Kieran Treadwell and Sean Reidy featured against the Dragons, while Rob Herring is also back.
Connacht have suffered a big blow with flanker Jake Heenan ruled out for most of the season.
Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy is hopeful Heenan will play again for the province but the flanker faces a race against time to come back from troublesome shoulder injury.
Heenan departs Connacht at the end of the campaign, with Pat Lam's Bristol the likely destination. The 25-year-old Auckland native will be out until April at least after he had surgery on an injury he picked up against Cardiff Blues on November 24.
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