No excuses for Ulster this season says Les Kiss
Prop shortage a problem, but Les insists province are raring to go
Ulster already know they will be far from full strength when they kick off the PRO12 against Dragons next week but Director of Rugby Les Kiss says his men must meet any such challenges head on this year.
With the province having contributed heavily to the Irish cause in South Africa this summer, and sending a dozen to Irish camp over the last three days, Test stars will only become available gradually throughout the campaign's opening weeks.
Despite the PRO12's Managing Director Martin Anayi yesterday stating that the league needed to find a solution for international absentees throughout the season, Kiss will not be entertaining any excuses if there are early season stumbles.
"We're totally aware of it, it's just part of the challenge," he said. "Pre-season has been spent integrating new recruits into the system, from the Academy and from outside like Charles Piutau. Hopefully we're designing something among that group that can step up and deliver on the games when internationals aren't there.
"We're proud of the fact that this season we've provided more players to the national cause. In the last Test match (against South Africa) we had around 28% and that's as high as it's been in a number of years. Doing that means there's a bit more risk that you're going to have players out at this time of year.
"I'm aware of that, November will be the same landscape and I'm aware of the player management. These challenges pop up but we need to be bigger than that."
While the return of Irish contributors is on the horizon, how to cover the number three jersey has Kiss searching for "a solution."
Rodney Ah You, newly arrived from Connacht this summer, is an established tight-head but pre-season injuries to Ricky Lutton, Wiehahn Herbst and Johnny Simpson have left the squad without another to call upon for Friday's final pre-season friendly against Northampton Saints.
Still waiting for a timeframe to be placed Lutton's return, and while loosehead Andy Warwick has shown an ability to switch sides of the scrum, the Ballyclare man's groin problem could seriously hamper preparation for the early fixtures if it turns out to be longer-term.
"We've lost three tightheads and only have one left," said Kiss." "It's something we have to work for a solution. We have to make sure that backline that we talk about can actually do something. We haven't got an answer yet but it's something we have to find some solution for in some form and that's part of what I've to get going and work towards over the next 24 hours."
Unwilling to say if that solution could come from outside the squad - Munster signed South African Jaco Taute this week after Francis Saili's injury left them short in midfield - Kiss said the province must be wary of promoting youngsters from the Academy into the senior side before they're ready.
"What that (solution) is at the moment I can't say or answer any questions on. It's a matter of doing the right things to make sure that the right interests and the right resources are protected. You don't like to put young guys into positions that they're not quite ready for. We're going to be discerning about it. It's one of the challenges, we have a challenge in the back-row too. That's the nature of the beast. We have to find the right solutions."