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Scarlets will leave us with red faces if we play like that again, warns Ulster chief

Treviso 14 Ulster 21

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss has admitted Scarlets will be expected to conquer Kingspan Stadium this weekend should his own side repeat their performance from Saturday's win over Treviso.

The province have lost only one home league game since February of 2016 but welcome the reigning champions to Belfast on Friday night with Wayne Pivac's men having already kicked off their title defence with two bonus-point wins, breaking the 40-point barrier both times.

Ulster themselves have started the season with back-to-back ­victories, but left northern Italy on Saturday night both frustrated and relieved after squandering the chance for a try-bonus and, in the end, having to hold on as Treviso threatened to steal an unlikely draw from 21-0 down.

"They'll rightly be favourites and we need to improve on what we did (against Treviso), if we're going to put something up against them," Kiss said of Friday's daunting assignment.

"It'll be tough to say the least. They're champions, they're in a good vein of form and they've continued on from last year. What Wayne Pivac has done the last three of four years, you can see how comfortable they are in the way they play.

"It's hard to find where to pressure them and they always find a way to pressure you. They've put good teams away in recent times."

With Scarlets and Leinster in Ulster's conference already boasting perfect tens from their two games, Ulster will not want to lose any more ground on their presumed play-off rivals this early in the season, but Saturday's win was a typical Italian arm wrestle that will have chipped away at least some of the good feeling generated by the stylish victory over the Cheetahs to open the season.

With five changes having been made from week one there was little fluidity in Ulster's game, but a first-half brace from Andrew Trimble (celebrating right with Tommy Bowe), the second of which the product of a fine interchange with John Cooney, had made it seem like matters were at least under control at half-time. The hosts were the better side in the third quarter, however.

Ulster have never lost but rarely impressed in the ­Stadio Monigo with their average winning margin only a fraction above the 7-point cushion they managed on Saturday, and for those 20 minutes after the break, it seemed another evening of frustration was on the cards.

Lacking the dynamism and forward thrust provided by last week's back-row - Ulster had Marcell Coetzee at home and Chris Henry on the bench - they struggled to punch their way across the gainline, while a tireless Italian rearguard action afforded nothing like the space the backs had exploited against the Cheetahs.

Good fortune was on their side though when John Cooney charged down a kick and patted the ball back for returning Irish international Jacob Stockdale to score his first try of the campaign.

With a little over 15 minutes remaining, it was presumed Ulster would make light of an earlier chalked off effort and go on to grab the crucial fourth score.

Having only threatened occasionally in the first-half however - most notably when Angelo Esposito seemed sure to score but for a try-saving tackle by Cooney - Treviso scored twice in quick succession and instead of going hunting for the bonus, Ulster were instead hanging on to avoid a draw.

"There was relief obviously," said Kiss after his side emerged victorious from a nervy conclusion."They had real momentum at the back end of the game.

"They were very spirited. They were like men possessed at some points.

"But we're disappointed in a couple of areas."

Having run in six tries against the Cheetahs, Kiss was disappointed to see his side blunted by the Italians, displaying the same lack of cutting edge that all too often derailed their efforts last season.

"Our skill and the structure that we're trying to build failed us at times," he added.

"We know that so we know what the solutions we have to work towards and build those skill sets. You take your hat off to them but I am disappointed we didn't get an extra score we should have got in the first-half when there wasn't the clinical edge that we need.

"There was a forward pass from Christian (Leali'ifano) which was touch and go but that's how it goes and then another called back that was looking like a certain try.

"You can't lament those though, you have to do the job around that.

"We did do that because we won, but we wanted a little bit more for sure."

"We kicked a little bit too much and played their type of game in the early part of that second-half.

"I wanted to put a little bit more tempo in the game.

"We've got to make stronger decisions and we let them hang around for too long.

"If you give Treviso that, it give them hope and that's what they had right to the end.

"We were pushed to the edge but at least we were good enough to win it."

Kiss has ­already warned, though, that won't be enough this week.

Ulster: Ludik, Trimble (c), Bowe, McCloskey, Stockdale, Leali'ifano, Cooney, Black, Herring, Herbst, Diack, Treadwell, Rea, Reidy, Deysel.Replacements: Andrew (for Herring, 61), Warwick (for Black, 50), Ah You (for Herbst, 60), Browne, Henry (for Deysel, 49), Shanahan (for Cooney, 67), Nelson (for Leali'ifano, 60), Marshall (for Trimble, 49)

Treviso: Hayward, Esposito, Sgarbi (c), Allan, Benvenuti, McKinley, Tebaldi, Zani, Bigi, Ferrari, Lazzaroni, Ruzza, Minto, A Steyn, W Douglas Replacements: Makelara (for Bigi, 52), Traore (for Zani, 40), T Pasquali (for ­Ferrari, 50), M Barbini, D Budd (for Minto, 58), Bronzini (for Tibaldi,52), Gori, Zanon

Referee: Dan Jones (WAL)

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