Les Kiss: Ulster will have to tame a new beast against Leinster in Pro12 semi-final
Ospreys 26 - Ulster 46
A fourth consecutive PRO12 semi-final and a fourth win on the bounce left Les Kiss a satisfied man following a six-try 46-26 triumph over Ospreys on Saturday, but Ulster's Director of Rugby is already warning his players that facing Leinster in the last four will be a wholly different proposition.
The Dubliners were on the wrong end of a 30-6 defeat when visiting Belfast two weeks ago but, with considerably more at stake, and at an RDS venue that has been a far from happy hunting ground for the northern province, Kiss is expecting a "different beast".
"It is mission accomplished," he said in terms of securing the league's fourth and final play-off spot. "We've got Leinster away so that becomes a tough ask. We've tried to work on our away form all year and we're improving. We've got to make sure we get it right."
On whether the most recent meeting between the two old rivals would have any bearing on matters come next Friday, he added: "They'll be smarting and you'd expect nothing less.
"When we last played, without a doubt, I thought they were short a run, a lot of (their) players hadn't played a lot of rugby. I also think they weren't in the zone as they can be at times.
"They know that, we know that. I don't expect the same team next time in terms of how they played.
"They'll be a different beast, we've got a lot of respect for what they can do with the ball, a lot of respect for the players they have and last time wasn't what they usually deliver.
"We've got to be armed for that and they'll build a real siege mentality at home. We have to be up for it."
That should be no issue given that, while Ulster were decidedly on top when the teams last met, Leinster have provided a knock-out blow to their silverware hopes on no less than four occasions since 2011.
Despite only securing their play-off spot on the season's final day - and given Munster's win over Scarlets at Thomond Park, they would have been in regardless of events at Liberty Stadium - this is a team with real momentum and key players who appear to be finding form at just the right time.
They trailed 7-0 early in Swansea but, against opposition who needed a bonus-point win to keep alive their hopes of Champions Cup rugby next season, took their chances and relied upon a back-row combination feasting on turnover ball to keep their hosts at bay.
Paddy Jackson - again in fine form - levelled with a conversion of his own try and captain Rory Best stepped inside the Ospreys' defensive line to give his men the lead.
Josh Matavesi squared things up but a third Ulster score before the turn proved key. A fine chip ahead from Andrew Trimble bounced back into the gleeful wing's arms and he had plenty of pace to evade Ospreys' Dan Evans.
Jackson's conversion, and a penalty shortly into the second-half, had Ulster in control.
Tries from Chris Henry, Stuart Olding and a first of the season from Franco van der Merwe followed to give Ulster their highest PRO12 score against non-Italian opposition for over two years.
While there were a few areas of concern - the scrum again creaked and Ospreys' two late tries gave them a four-score bonus of their own - Kiss (left) enjoyed the contest.
"I was very happy that they kept playing and kept backing themselves," he said.
"Maybe a little bit much at times, it put the stress levels up, but we knew that they would play really good rugby.
"You couldn't ask for a better finish to a season. The to rebound from 7-0 was good."
On the performance of his back-row, where once again two natural opensides were included in Henry and Sean Reidy, Kiss thought their ability to force turnovers was key.
"It was important," he said. "Each team was getting to each others' try line and early on we were getting a return when we went there. They were getting close but we got critical turnovers to get them away.
"We let a couple of tries in and we'll look at that, but overall to get as many tries as we did, I was really pleased."
No team has ever won a PRO12 semi-final away from home, and it's a familiar hurdle for Ulster, but there are signs that this could be the team to break the hoodoo.
Ospreys: D Evans; B John, O Watkin, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb (captain); N Smith, S Baldwin, D Arhip; R Bernardo, R Thornton; D Lydiate, S Underhill, J King.
Replacements: S Otten, G Thomas, A Jarvis (for Arhip, 48), J Bearman (for Bernado 57), O Cracknell (for Underhill, 64), B Leonard (for Webb, 69), S Davies (for Watkin, 50), T Grabham (for John, 60)
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, 67), K McCall (for Black, 48), A Warwick, (for Lutton,67) , R Diack (for Browne, 56) , R Wilson (for Henderson, 56) , P Marshall (for Pienaar, 72), S Olding (for McCloskey 56), D Cave (for Marshall, 58)
Star Man: Iain Henderson
Match Rating: 7/10
Referee: Marius Mitrea