Slump tough for Ulster to us to swallow, says Kiss
Ulster 22-26 Bordeaux
Ulster's worst European campaign in nine years came to the most humbling of conclusions against Bordeaux on Saturday with Director of Rugby Les Kiss admitting that nine defeats in 13 games in all competitions has everyone feeling the strain, himself above all.
In a clash that meant nothing for either side, Ulster spent the preceding week stressing the need for a morale-boosting win but were overpowered by visitors who many had expected to be disinterested in the extreme.
"I feel it for all the guys," sighed Kiss.
"I am the type of coach that does and I am connected in an emotional way with the team.
"It is not a nice place to be. I feel that weight for sure. But it is what my job is.
"I think I am speaking collectively, it is tough to be in this space.
"Some of us have been there once or twice, some a few more times, but the real disappointment is knowing there is a lot of good effort going in.
"But when you are in that space you have got to look yourself in the mirror and know what you've got to take ownership for and responsibility for and make sure you stay strong about where you are going and what you are doing together.
"It is important we recognise the responsibility we have to get ourselves out of this situation. That is what we are going to work hard on."
With the northern hemisphere's rugby focus shifting from the Champions Cup to the Six Nations this week, Ulster aren't in action again until February 10, meaning the side will have three weeks to stew over such a disappointing showing in front of their home fans.
With the losing and poor performances seemingly contagious, the break at least gives a province looking bereft of confidence time to regroup.
"There's nothing worse than going into a break with a loss," said Kiss, whose previous nadir in the Ulster coaching box, a November loss to Edinburgh, also preceded a three-week break.
"This will hurt for a while and it should. No one feels comfortable, nobody feels like this is acceptable. We understand that we have to work to get out of this phase.
"What usually happens is it feels like there are so many things going wrong, but it is about being able to put it together, focus on the things that matter for us, and it is about getting the basics really right under all the conditions.
"You have got to make sure you pick the right things and work hard together as a group."
While Ulster will lose several players to Ireland's Six Nations cause when the squad is announced this morning - including the majority currently showing any kind of form - the side are at least hoping to be boosted by returns from injury.
Dave Shanahan and Paul Marshall played a half each on Saturday but talismanic scrum-half Ruan Pienaar is nearing a return from a knee injury while summer signing Marcell Coetzee is close to being cleared for a debut following his April ACL surgery.
Rodney Ah You and Wiehahn Herbst, who would be expected to improve a scrum that faltered on Saturday, are also in the final stages of recovery.
"The national boys move away to work, and we'll get a couple of them back obviously, but we've always tried to say we can back the group that's with us, the ones that are available," added Kiss.
"But it always helps when you've got more players back.
"Ruan will be back, if not Edinburgh then Glasgow the week after, Marcell is back soon, Stuart Olding, Jared (Payne) is a little way off, Rodney and Wiehahn, Rob Herring, there's some guys to come back and that encourages that competitiveness that you need.
"Ultimately, there is a five-game period that guys have to take responsibility for and it's up to us to make sure we do the job in that period.
"There's another 50 points in the competition that we can take.
"We've got to carve the most out of that, that we can."
There was at least better news over the weekend for the Ulster 'A' side in the British and Irish Cup.
The second string were beaten by Jersey on Saturday, but earned a losing bonus point in the 26-21 reverse to book their place in the quarter-finals.
The visitors' scores came though Mark Best, Jacob Stockdale and Conor Joyce with Johnny McPhillips kicking three conversions.
The draw for the last eight takes place today with Ulster to travel to one of the top four seeds.
ULSTER: C Piutau; T Bowe, D Cave, S McCloskey, A Trimble (captain); P Jackson, D Shanahan; A Warwick, R Best, J Simpson; R Diack, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy.
Replacements: J Andrew, C Black (for Warwick, 71), R Lutton (for Simpson, 23), K Treadwell (Diack, 46), C Ross (for van der Merwe, 54), P Marshall (for Shanahan, 40), B Herron, C Gilroy (for Bowe, 63)
BORDEAUX-BEGLES: G Cros; N Ducuing, J Baptiste Dubié, J Wakacegu, B Connor; I Madigan, Y Lesgourgues; S Kitshoff, C Maynadier (captain), M Clerc, T Palmer, B Botha; L Madaule, L Goujon, M Tauleigne.
Replacements: B Auzqui (for Maynader, 61), S Taofifenua (for Kitshoff, 35), V Cobilas (for Clerc, 54),J Edwards (for Botha, 52) H Chalmers (for Tauleigne, 69), J Audy (for Lesgourges, 51), S Hickey (for Madigan, 59), J Rey.
Ref: M Carley (RFU)
Man of the match: J Baptiste Dubié