Les Kiss orders Ulster players to take break after tough run
For the first time since the autumn, Kingspan Stadium will be a quiet place this week with Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss saying his players have earned a break after a gruelling run of fixtures.
Following their 32-0 victory over Zebre on Friday, in which Nick Williams starred with two tries, the province are without a fixture until facing Pro12 champions Glasgow at the end of the month, a first break in the schedule since mid-October.
With the postponed fixture against Oyonnax in November the only weekend Ulster have been without a game since their defeat to Edinburgh the weekend Ireland were dumped out of the World Cup by Argentina, Kiss has granted the squad over a week off.
"I've encouraged the guys who are taking a break to switch off," said the Australian.
"I think it's important.
"I've encouraged them to use the break wisely, to re-energise, reinvigorate and prepare to be challenged for a few days when they come back in that second week.
"There'll be a few here to hold the fort, most will find space to re-energise and come back ready to get back on the job.
"I want them to give a bit back to their family or their partner, the people that make a lot of sacrifice for them over the last 16 weeks.
"Up against Glasgow and then Connacht the next week, they're massive matches.
"The back-end is going to be really important. It's going to be interesting in its own right."
When the players do reconvene, Ireland's ill-fated Six Nations championship will be over - games against Italy and Scotland the next two weekends rounding out a title defence that already has no chance of yielding a third triumph in a row - with Kiss looking forward to getting his Test players back, if not for Glasgow then for the interpro with league leaders Connacht the week after.
"It'll be interesting," he said. "We probably won't get them back for the first game but certainly for the second one.
"We'll see where we stand with all that. We're certainly going to be a healthier squad going forward.
"That'll make things difficult for me because people have stood up and said 'I can deliver'. You want a competitive group who want to do something special.
"We're still a long way from doing that but (Zebre) was an important game for us."
The win against the lowly Italians pleased Kiss on two fronts - firstly the bonus point secured by Paul Marshall's late try but also the improved defence displayed to keep their visitors to nil.
"There were good signs of what we've delivered in the past and the boys deserve a pat on the back for not allowing a point to get over the line," he added.