Sport

Les Kiss defends Ulster form as Jordi Murphy joins up

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has defended the current form of his side as they prepare to resume their European campaign against Harlequins Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
By John Flack

ULSTER director of rugby Les Kiss has vigorously defended his players and coaching staff in the wake of growing criticism of recent performances as the team prepares for Sunday’s crucial European Champions Cup encounter with Harlequins at the Stoop.

The game will represent a step-up in class from recent games in which Ulster have struggled to two last-gasp wins and a draw against the bottom three teams in their PRO14 Conference.

Most recently, Ulster threw away a 12-point second-half lead against the Dragons on Friday night to salvage a share of the spoils after an injury-time try, having also left it late in previous games against the Southern Kings and Benetton Treviso.

“We’ve had an international period which was a good period for us in a lot of ways; four debutants came in and played and, at one stage, we had a back row with only five caps in it,” said the Australian.

“In the three games in that period we got 12 out of 15 points; it’s not a bad return with the injuries and the internationals as they fell.”

The Ulster supporters’ patience has been tested in recent years with a trophy drought stretching back to 2006 and recent displays won’t have inspired much confidence going into the Harlequins double-header and the three inter-pro games that follow in a busy and potentially season-defining period.

“I think the fans have been great to tell you the truth; there is a bit of noise and you expect that and I understand that,” Kiss added.

“We do not respond to the noise but we want people to know we are a group of people who are doing the right things we believe.

“The coaching group have been brilliant, worked really hard, been smart and got to know the players we are challenging in a different way.

“It is not easy, there are a lot of tough things in the way at the moment and there are components we do not have control of – the fact about our roster and all those things but I think there is a real special thing the boys are building.”

Irish international trio of Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale and Rob Herring return to the squad for Sunday’s game as does prop Wiehahn Herbst who has recovered from a calf injury.

The pack remains depleted though with Jean Deysel, Robbie Diack and Rodney Ah You all missing the trip as will Jared Payne, who is making good progress but has still to play this season due to continuing headaches.

Meanwhile, Kiss has welcomed the addition of 18-time capped Irish back row Jordi Murphy, who will join the club from Leinster on a two-year deal next summer.

“He is resilient, his preparation is exceptional and that is something that he is going to add to our group which is growing in that area,” said Kiss, who worked with the

26-year-old when Ireland defence coach.

“He works hard but away from the game he looks after himself exceptionally well; I am talking a lot of things that are not on the rugby pitch and that is the type of person Jordi is.

“We know what he gives on the pitch, he has a certain dynamic way that he runs and carries the ball.

“He is quite hard and good over the ball and I think we have got Chris (Henry) and Sean (Reidy) who attack the ruck a different way so Jordi will give us a bit more depth there.”

EUROPEAN RUGBY CHAMPIONS CUP MATCHDAY THREE FIXTURES

POOL ONE

Sunday: Harlequins v Ulster (1pm); La Rochelle v Wasps (2pm)

POOL TWO

Saturday (5.30pm): Northampton v Ospreys

Sunday (3.15pm): Saracens v Clermont

POOL THREE

Friday (7.45pm): Glasgow v Montpellier

Sunday  (5.30pm): Exeter v Leinster

POOL FOUR

Saturday: Castres v Racing (6.30pm); Munster v Leicester (7.45pm)

POOL FIVE

Saturday: Scarlets v Treviso (1pm);  Toulon v Bath (4.15pm)

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