Les Kiss: Ulster need more strength in depth
Leinster 30 - Ulster 18
A crushed Les Kiss is already looking ahead to next season after seeing his Ulster side crash 30-18 in the PRO12 semi-final against Leinster at the RDS on Friday night.
While the Australian has only just finished his first campaign in charge, it was an all too familiar tale for the province as they lost a third consecutive PRO12 semi and saw their season end with defeat at the hands of their neighbours for a fifth time in six years.
Kiss has called for improvement to the team's depth if they are ever to get over their stumbling block when it comes to knock-out rugby.
"That's a constant, it always needs to happen," he reflected. "Our roster will be undoubtedly stronger next year with the new players coming in, some young and also strong foreign talent.
"You need a blend of both. We will be stronger next year and we will be even stronger the year after that. It's not built overnight.
"We've a good Academy system and we're working hard to make sure we can improve that and bring them through.
"We'll see some guys step up to the plate next season because we need to broaden and deepen. It is massive.
"You need the capacity to build that through financial resources and good coaching. Hopefully we are putting together a programme to deliver that."
Ulster had a pair of Craig Gilroy tries and eight points from the boot of Paddy Jackson in their favour but it will not have been lost on Kiss that, in a game they lost by 12, Leinster were allowed to race into a 13-point head start.
"They got the necessary momentum in the first 20 minutes that they needed to," he said. "There were a couple of errors in our midfield but we made a few nice incisions in that 10-12-13 area, we just didn't have the next play good enough to actually hurt them again like we usually do.
"They were a little bit more robust and forceful at the breakdown so we weren't able to get that edge of speed.
"I still think we worked hard enough to get back in the game. Overall, Leinster were good in everything they did."
Having been beaten handily in Belfast just three weeks ago, Leinster's Jamie Heaslip - one of a group of senior players who performed outstandingly for Leo Cullen's men - said the D4 outfit had learned from the loss.
"Every game this season has been a help," he said. "We went up there and were well beaten but the scoreboard didn't reflect the game, they scored two tries when we were down to 14 men and an intercept.
"The scoreboard didn't reflect the game, a bit like here, they were much better than the scoreline suggested.
"Like any game, you take your learnings. It's probably easier to learn from losses than wins, sometimes you can brush over it with wins.
"We had to take that licking. You get on with it."
While Ulster fought back to trail by only two at half-time, they could not capitalise on a spell of pressure after the turn with the four-time champions taking control after Heaslip's score in the 47th minute.
For Kiss, the start of the second-half was the turning point. He said: "We just didn't make the first 10 minutes of the second-half pay.
"We just weren't as organised and moving as well as we usually do. Credit to them as well for what they did to us. It's weird how it suddenly switches around."
Kiss was keen to look at the wider picture, saying the key to another failed silverware bid lay in the early months of 2016. Once again, both sides who advanced had the benefit of a home semi-final with Kiss pinpointing losses to Munster and Cardiff as the reason his side had to go on the road.
"Not beating Munster, not getting points from one or two games, that was critical," said Kiss. "It refers back to that mental attitude of not allowing games to slip away.
"Even if you've lost them. Cardiff was a big one. If we had got just one more point out of that, it would have made a difference. Get another point somewhere else, it makes a difference."
Leinster: I Nacewa (captain), D Kearney, G Ringrose, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Ross; D Toner, M Kearney; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin (for Strauss, 52), P Dooley (for McGrath,68) , T Furlong (for Ross, 52), R Moloney (for M Kearney, 65), J Conan (for Ruddock, 73), L McGrath (for Reddan, 68) I Madigan (for Te'o 68) Z Kirchner (Nacewa, 49)
Ulster: J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (captain), R Lutton, P Browne, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy.
Replacements: R Herring (for Best, 73), K McCall (Black, 46), A Warwick (for Lutton, 61), R Diack (for Browne, 65), R Wilson (for Reidy, 61), P Marshall (for Pienaar, 75), S Olding (for McCloskey, 57), D Cave (for Marshall, 68)
Star man: Jamie Heaslip
Match rating: 8/10
Referee: Ian Davies