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Leinster v Ulster Pro12 semi-final: Passionate Les Kiss has some major silverware on his mind

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 18/05/2016

The Pro12 may not have much on the Premier League when it comes to managerial mind-games but Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has a fair idea of what Leinster will be using for bulletin board material come Friday night's semi-final.

Just three weeks on from a humbling 30-6 defeat at Kingspan Stadium in the regular season, the mid-game interviews of coaching staff saw Leinster's gameplan that day described as "predictable" and Kiss is sure the D4 side will be out to exact revenge at the RDS now that the campaign has reached a defining juncture.

"I know what they've got up on the wall," he said yesterday. "Leinster think Ulster think that Leinster are predictable.

"We don't think that. We just know that on that day they weren't the type of team they usually are. They'll be building an attitude and a mindset around that and fair play.

"It was a good win without a doubt but I've got to say that Leinster were probably a little bit underdone. They had some guys that hadn't played a lot of footy.

"They've another couple under their belt now. I think they'll be in a far better place

"They'll throw the heap at us, especially at home. I can only expect that.

"They will not be the same team we played here and I don't just mean the personnel, I mean the type of game they'll play."

For Ulster's own motivation, plenty of column inches since the semi-final clashes were confirmed have been devoted to Ulster's poor record in knock-out games and whether certain key players were capable of producing the same level of performance outside the friendly confines of Kingspan Stadium.

Kiss admitted that at least some of the questioning of his squad has registered.

"I've read a few things," he said. "I haven't read a lot but I guess that's probably what people will lean on, what's happened in the past.

"Everyone has a right to an opinion. We can either let it enter into our psyche in a negative way or we can accept that people will say that and attach it to what we want to do, what we want to achieve, and our own mission.

"We know what that is and I'm pretty sure we know how to go about our business to deliver on that.

"It's a semi-final. There's going to be some fairly critical moments through the game and how they fall, and how you deal with that, is going to be massive in terms of the outcome."

If the pre-match back and forth hasn't quite reached the standards of Sir Alex Ferguson in his pomp, one area of the game that inches ever closer to top-flight football is the pressure on the man in charge and Kiss is sure that more will be heaped on his shoulders should Ulster lose a fifth knock-out game in succession.

The Australian hasn't even had the benefit of a pre-season with his squad since arriving only in November after Ireland's World Cup campaign had run its course.

"I've copped a bit of stick here and there but we all do that," said Kiss.

"I'll cop heat if we don't do the job this week but I've really enjoyed it. I've really enjoyed it this season, and to tell you the truth, I want to enjoy it more next week."

And if he can be the man to win Ulster's first silverware since 2006?

"It's only right that I'd feel bloody proud of what the group had delivered," he said.

"It's tough, from both sides, when you come in a third way through the season and they've got to accept me and we've got to work through that.

"The group have really learnt a lot about each other, about the standards I expect and everyone has worked around that.

"I can only take my hat off to the whole group to this point.

"We know it's not an easy one but we've got to stay focused on what works for us and hopefully it delivers what we need."

Ulster enter the play-offs having won four in a row.

"We've got to respect Leinster at home because if we don't and go there below 100% they'll hurt us," he warned.

"The fact is, it's a massive game. We went to Ospreys and that was a massive game on a lot of fronts. This is another one.

"They won't underestimate what home is because it's a very important part of the business. They should be feeling comfortable."

Having allowed Leinster to win without needing to be at their best in some of the previous big meetings, Ulster will be out to make sure that feeling isn't one that lasts.

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