Ulster coach Les Kiss hoping for early season momentum
THEY were one point short of European qualification last year and one win short of a possible home semi-final in the Guinness Pro 12, but for Ulster, that was as big a chasm as the Grand Canyon.
Those are the thoughts of Les Kiss as he prepares to take Ulster into his second season, looking for rewards on both the domestic and European fronts.
For the Kiwi, who took over as director of rugby in the province last November, coming close to success was the same as being a million miles away.
“We had four or five games – Scarlets early in the year, Munster away, Munster at home, Cardiff away – games that you would probably have said ‘at least one of them’.
“On the other side of that we may have stolen a game or two as well. But one more game makes the difference, and one point in Europe makes all the difference.
“The margins are tight, but it’s as wide as the Grand Canyon in some ways. The work to bridge that gap is a lot of work.
“To position ourselves between now and Christmas is a pretty important period. There’s a fair stress on our roster, we have a number of injuries to contend with.
“Either side of Bordeaux away – who Madigan seems to be playing well with – and Exeter at home, who we know are an extremely good team, we have two inter-pros.
“That’s a four-week tough period, and before that we have Ospreys and Glasgow. It’s not easy, so we’ve got to manage the squad well.
“When the international window’s on, the Chicago test match [Ireland v New Zealand on November 5] probably takes those players out for probably two more Pro12 games.
“Getting the right things right and positioning ourselves when the big boys are away is important. Between now and Christmas, I hope we have enough to position ourselves for a good assault at the back end of the year,” said Kiss.
He prepares his injury-hit squad for the challenge of a Dragons side that came perilously close to victory at the Kingspan Stadium last season.
Having produced arguably their best display of the year, the Welsh side led 15-14 in the dying minutes only to be left crestfallen by a late penalty from Paddy Jackson that snatched the win for the home side.
“It is massive. Will it define the following week, or the season? No. But it will certainly make things a lot easier in terms of going to Treviso the following week. To gain that momentum early would be handy.
“If we want to be a team that aspires to the great things at the end of the year, between now and Christmas we’d hope to build enough consistency and rhythm in our game to be able to stack enough points together that keeps us a good place when we get to the international windows, and the later part of the year, where you’re fighting on two fronts hopefully.
“That’s only possible if you get the first job done in front of you.
“We know the Dragons will be loaded for this. They do fancy themselves after last year’s two results, they felt hard done by in both from talking to them afterwards, so they’ll be fired up for it.”
Have a look at Ulster's new signing Anton Peikrishvili in action
Meanwhile, Ulster also moved to alleviate their front row injury crisis by signing Georgian international prop Anton Peikrishvili on a short-term contract.
With Ricky Lutton, Wiehahn Herbst and Jonny Simpson on the sidelines, the 28-year-old will act as cover after signing a deal until December 19.
The 23-times capped prop has played in France for the last nine years, having represented Agen, Castres, Brive and Bayonne.