Les Kiss hails new mental steel as key to Ulster's early rise
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has praised the resilience that has carried his side to four wins from four to open their PRO12 campaign.
The province lead the league at this early stage after securing victory against Glasgow last Friday evening. With the fixture taking place in the Warriors' Scotstoun home, a venue where Ulster had previously never won a PRO12 game, things seemed to be following an eerily similar pattern to past meetings when Gregor Townsend's men stormed back to take the lead despite early dominance from the visitors.
Where in the past the 2015 champions had gone on to seal a late victory, this time Ulster mounted a comeback of their own. Indeed, Paddy Jackson's score just after the hour mark was a worthy winner for a gripping contest, with Kiss thrilled to see his men refuse to panic after falling behind.
"When they went ahead I couldn't understand how after the dominance we'd had," he said. "To stay strong and stay on track, keep strong at the breakdown, stay tough and hard - all those things came to pay for us in the end.
"I thought it was a really great result. It was a really great win and I'm very happy with our whole team but the forward pack in particular."
After beating Scarlets two weeks ago, this was the second game in succession where Kiss's pack had the upper hand on their opposite numbers to ensure it was their backs who came out on top in a battle between two sets of gifted play-makers. Fittingly, for all the pace and link-play involved in Jackson's game sealing score, it all came off an excellent turnover won by the forwards in their own half.
With Glasgow undermanned in the back row, Kiss was especially pleased with how his side exerted their superiority at the breakdown.
"The previous week we focused on it and, while we started the game well, we didn't really finish it," he added. "This week we actually just emphasised it a little more, I thought we were better on both sides of the ball, so really happy with that.
"I thought our forward pack, and the replacements that came on, did a really good job in terms of making sure we kept up the pressure in that area."
With Europe edging into view, the big games keep coming for Ulster and this weekend brings an appetising fixture in front of the Sky TV cameras.
Saturday will see Ospreys welcomed to Kingspan Stadium, the shine somewhat taken off their impressive start to the season after losing to Leinster in the RDS last week.
While the final score, 31-19, indicates that Ospreys came just one try short of two valuable points, Leinster led 31-0 early in the second-half before taking their foot off the gas.
After beginning the season with 15 points from an available 15, Ospreys coach Steve Tandy rejected the idea that over-confidence was the issue.
"I know that people will ask about complacency but that wasn't a factor," he said. "We knew that we weren't world-beaters after three games. If anyone did think that, then they've had the answer. You can't come to the RDS and give away possession, cheap turnovers and penalties, and expect to get anything. Leinster are a decent team, they grind you down if you let them and it takes its toll. We didn't deal with the game as it was playing out and the outcome was pretty clear."
Their coach is now expecting an equally big challenge in Belfast this weekend.
"It doesn't get any easier with Ulster away next week," he added. "We knew it was a strange start to the season with two home games and three away trips to Ireland.
"It's still a solid start to the season but, as we've said all along, that's all it has been, a start.
"We'll be positive going to Ulster but well aware that we need to be much better right from the first whistle."